Category Archives: Church Talks

Learn Well to Teach Well

[Given by Chris Juchau at Ward Conferences in the Highland Utah South Stake in early 2017]

The theme of this Ward Conference is: “Improving Gospel Teaching at Church and in the Home.”  Gospel Teaching is really just a means to a critically important end, which is Gospel Learning.  I would like to speak for a few minutes about our need to be outstanding Gospel Learners—both purely for our own sakes—and also that it might help us become more effective Gospel Teachers for the sake of the Gospel Learners learning from us, beginning in our own homes.

What does it mean to be a great Gospel Learner?  Do great Gospel Learners all have thick reading glasses, high IQs, study their scriptures for 90 minutes every day, answer every question in Sunday School, and appear completely at east speaking in front of large audiences?  Of course not.

My father has a Ph.D. in pharmacology.  It was not his stack of diplomas from his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees that taught me most clearly that learning was important.  It was, rather, his open-mindedness in a discussion, his willingness to see another person’s perspective, and his insatiable appetite for learning that taught me that learning is less about being the sharpest looking student in a classroom and more about an attitude of wanting to learn and then making time to do it.

Of course, not all learning comes from studying books!  Much of life’s most important learning comes from doing and experiencing and observing and from that attitude of wanting to know more.

Our church is beyond wonderful where learning is concerned.  So much of our church is about learning!  Think of how unique we are!

  • We believe in both ancient scripture and modern revelation.
  • We believe that much has been revealed—and that much has not been revealed! That there is much to learn!
  • We believe that we can be taught by inspired and legitimate representatives of God.
  • We also believe we can be taught by God, Himself, through the Holy Ghost—that each of us has our own direct link to God, the very source of truth.
  • The restoration of the modern Church literally began with a question and an answer.
  • How many religions in the world teach the value of the mind, the spirit, and the heart, and experience the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does! And how much do we have to learn?!!

Let me give six quick examples of things I think we should be anxiously engaged in learning more about and I’ll put these in the form of personal questions:

  1. Do you understand God the Father, Jesus Christ, our relationship to them, and the Atonement to such an extent that you can, as the song says, “drop [your] burden[s] at His feet and bear a song away” – instead of being weighed and beaten down by thoughts of how unworthy and inadequate you are?
  2. Do you understand the purpose and value of agency and adversity so well that your faith can withstand significant adversity aimed directly at you? That your mind—and faith—aren’t blown away when life’s most difficult challenges hit you directly—in spite of your goodness and “deserving” efforts?
  3. Do you really understand how best to discern truth from error? And how to utilize heart, mind, and spirit in your discernment of real truth?
  4. Do you really know how to love? How many of us know that sometimes when our spouse disappoints or upsets us, we are being told of our deficiencies in loving them—and not their deficiencies in loving us?  How many of us really understand that when we married our spouse, we committed to loving them, not to being loved by them?
  5. Do you know how to parent well? Should you be strict or permissive?  How do you communicate love?  How do your own parents’ bad habits impact your children through your repeating them?  What are the true keys to great parenting?
  6. Lastly, do you know other people and their problems and challenges so well that you have been (or are being) stripped of prejudice, bias, and judgment? How many of us know how to respond to people who are different from us or who are struggling with things that we don’t think we struggle with?

There is so much to learn!

If those things aren’t enough, what about these ten questions recently raised by youth in our stake?…

  1. How does the Spirit speak to me?
  2. Are my sins forgiven?
  3. Why does God intervene in some people’s lives and not others?
  4. Why would I need a bishop to repent of some things?
  5. Why do bad things happen to good people?
  6. Why would God change policies within His own Church over time?
  7. Why do I not always find answers to my prayers?
  8. Why is the law of chastity such a big deal?
  9. If marriage is such a big deal, why does God allow people to be born attracted to their own sex?
  10. How does divorce effect family relationships in eternity?

Brothers and Sisters…

  • We need to learn how to love.
  • We need to learn how to parent.
  • We need to learn how to teach.
  • We need to learn about Heavenly Father, about the Savior, and about our relationships with them.
  • We need to learn about the plan of salvation and the purposes of life, agency, and adversity.
  • We need to learn how to study, learn about, and deal with difficult questions.
  • We need to learn how to be people that all other people in the world are comfortable being with.

May I invite you as one of the significant invitations from today’s conference to make time and conscious effort to learn.

  • You will learn through study.
  • You will learn through observation.
  • You will learn by doing.
  • And you will learn the most if you consciously strive to learn and make time to learn.

Learning doesn’t generally happen by accident.  We can learn some things “the hard way.” But better is to take a conscious, active, prioritized approach to learning.

As for learning by study, we can study ancient scripture; we can study conference talks from living leaders; we can study from “the best books” which opens a whole world of thoughtful—and sometimes inspired—writing.

As for learning through direct revelation, we can pray; we can listen; we can exercise our faith and spirituality; we can watch for little miracles and to answers to prayers.

As for learning through observation, we can notice what does happen and what has happened to others who live the commandments, who exercise faith, and who work to acquire Christ-like attributes.

As for learning through doing, we can live the commandments, ourselves; exercise faith, ourselves; work to acquire Christ-like attributes, ourselves—and discover both the effects and lessons learned by so doing.

We cannot overstate the importance of the Savior’s teaching that “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine” and where that doctrine comes from.

As a final comment, there are some truths we cannot avoid.

  • We cannot avoid that teaching and leading are virtually synonymous.
  • We cannot avoid that, as disciples of the Savior, we are obligated to both teach and lead.
  • And we cannot avoid that, whether we want to or not, and whether it is for good or for ill, we are all leading and teaching others around us all the time.

Therefore, one of the things we should want to learn is how to be a good, effective teacher—both at home and at Church.  Among the things we study, let us study this.  Among the things we observe and practice, let us observe and practice this.  If you have been called to a teaching or leading position—or the next time you are called to a teaching or leading position—decide to make a conscious attempt during your experience with that calling to learn how to become a better gospel teacher. Do not, however, wait for a calling.  Nowhere is this more important than at home.

As you attend workshops in the rest of today’s block meetings, please do so with a genuine interest in learning how you can be a better teacher, that as a teacher and as one who has learned, you might help others become better Gospel Learners.

I testify that the Lord will help and enable you.  As you seek to learn, the Holy Ghost will teach you.  As you seek to teach effectively, the Holy Ghost will inspire you and God will magnify your efforts for the sake of the gospel learners in your life.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Calling of a Teacher

[Given by Chris Juchau in Stake Conference, October 2016.]

Good morning, Brothers and Sisters.  I am grateful that Elder Worthen has invited me to speak this morning. Sister Pugh has spoken to us about becoming more effective teachers in our homes.  I would like to speak on the importance of callings as teachers in the Church.

There are in the Church—whether merely in Church folklore or in reality—certain negative caricatures of different types of teachers.

  • There is the High Priest Group instructor who delves into topics far past the fringes of useful doctrine—perhaps because the basic topics bore him.
  • There is the youth teacher who asks his students to call him by his first name and really just wants to be liked by the youth and seen as one of them.
  • There is the Gospel Doctrine teacher who adopts an academic, tedious, and not very spiritual approach to teaching—as if Sunday School is an exercise in pedagogy rather than an exercise in spiritual learning.
  • There is the brother who underprepares. Or who hurriedly throws something together during Sacrament Meeting.
  • There is the Relief Society teacher who overprepares. Or who puts excessive work into handouts and crafts and table decorations.
  • There is the Nursery teacher who was called to be a Nursery “worker” and views his job as being all about babysitting and not at all about teaching.
  • There is the Elders Quorum instructor who likes to liven things up by playing Devil’s Advocate and asking not just thought-provoking questions, but provocative questions.

I honestly do not know how often any of these situations occurs in our stake.  But I would like us to take a view of the calling of a teacher that is so elevated and grand and clear that none of these types of situations would exist.

Of course, we look to the Savior as the example of a perfect teacher.  Admittedly, sometimes it is easier to say “Follow the Savior’s perfect example” than it is to find actual examples from Him that model the circumstances we face.  We don’t have a specific illustration, for example, of the Savior teaching a class of Mia Maids.  We do, though, have many examples of him teaching and interacting with people, and there are many principles we can derive from those.  To wit:

  • Even when Jesus was just 12 years old and was left behind in Jerusalem, Luke records that He “sat in the midst” of the people He was teaching “both hearing them and asking them questions.” From an early age, the Savior modeled the importance of teaching through discussion and of inviting thought and spiritual prompting through asking (surely) the right kinds of questions.  We, too, can engage those we teach in the learning process.
  • Jesus prepared for teaching by arising early in the morning and praying and by sometimes seeking solitude so He could commune with His Father. We, too, can ponder and pray over the things we’ll teach and the ways we’ll teach them.
  • Jesus didn’t always hand out the answers, but knew that people must discover truths for themselves. To Andrew He extended the invitation, “Come and see.”  To many he extended the invitation, “Come, follow me.”  We can also invite people to take steps that will lead them to their own testimony-building experiences.
  • Jesus bore testimony—of His Father, of Himself, and of other critical realities. To the Samaritan woman at the well, he said, “I that speak unto thee am he.”  We, too, can focus our teaching on the Savior and His mission.  And we can testify of Him as the true source of “living water.”
  • Jesus both sought out individuals and He also followed-up with them. Two of my favorite stories of Jesus are in John 5 and John 9.  In both stories, he heals a man—and then later goes and finds the man again and instructs him further in private.  We, too, can learn to focus on the one, not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom.
  • Jesus lifted and encouraged His students. In the Sermon on the Mount, he comforted His students while teaching them about His Father in the beatitudes.  He said to them, “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad:  for great is your reward in Heaven.”  He explained to them that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world.  After He healed people, He told them that it was their faith which had done it.  We, too, can help build the courage of those we’re called to teach.
  • Jesus taught from the scriptures and focused on pure, simple doctrines. He announced his own mission by quoting Isaiah and bearing testimony of its immediate application.  We, too, can show others how the scriptures can be applied to them right now.
  • Jesus ate with his students. He dined with Matthew, Zacchaeus, Simon, and many others.  We, too, can show caring for our students outside the classroom.
  • Jesus put people above everything but God. He said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  He taught children to honor their parents and adults to honor children.  He pointed out the faith of a poor widow who gave two mites.  He took time for people others were ignoring and passing by.  We, too, can make our calling to teach be about people and not only about doctrine.
  • Jesus invited his students to act. He invited Peter to join him on the water.  He invited the woman taken in adultery to sin no more.  He invited many to be of good cheer, to fear not, and to exercise faith.  We, too, can invite our students to exercise faith and act.
  • And, last that I will mention, Jesus invited his students to bear testimony. “Whom say ye that I am?” He asked them.  We, too, can invite our students to share testimony in ways that will strengthen them.

Brothers and Sisters, we need to think in different way about how we teach at Church.  Gone must be the days that teachers think that their job is to fill the air—or otherwise occupy people’s time—for 40 minutes each Sunday.  Let me give you some ideas of new ways we need to approach callings to teach…

Callings to teach should be more about people and less about “teaching.”  After bishopric members extend calls to members to teach, the next words should not be “Here is your lesson manual” or “Here’s where you go online to find your lesson material.”  It should be, “Here is a list of students in your class.  Let’s talk about them for a few minutes.”  Those discussions should be followed by teacher orientation meetings with organization leaders.

For some, the idea of teaching a class brings feelings of fear and trepidation and self-consciousness at the thought of standing in front of a group of students and presenting things to them in ways that will keep their attention.   This comes in part, I think, from a false understanding of what the calling is.  The scriptures teach that “Perfect love casteth out fear.”  I have learned that when I stand to speak in front of an audience and feel nervous, my nervousness dissipates when I look closely at the faces of the people I’m speaking to and ask myself what they are feeling.

The critical question a teacher faces each week is not, “What will I present for 40 minutes this coming Sunday?” but rather:  Who are my students?  How are they doing?  Where are they in their relationship with God?  How can I help strengthen their relationships to God?

Callings to teach should be more about learning and less about “teaching.”   This is a major change!  We must shift our focus from “teaching” per se to “learning.”  Of course, there’s no such thing as teaching without learning, anyway, so if we’re not focused on learning, we’re going to accomplish little but filling space and time.

Once we consider the individuals we’re teaching and their needs, the next question is not, “How will I teach them?” but rather:  “How will they learn this?”  “What experience or experiences could they have in our classroom that will help them learn this principle?”  “How will I engage my students in learning?”

Now I would like to add a caution about engaging students.  Engaging students effectively does not mean forcing them to do things that make them uncomfortable.  There are more than a few members of our church who skip Sunday School or Relief Society classes, for example, because they don’t trust their teacher to not make them answer questions they’re not prepared to answer or to read aloud when that makes them uncomfortable.  Church must be a safe place, particularly for those who feel anxious about some social situations.  There is no virtue in calling on people who don’t volunteer their own outward participation.  This will more often cause them to shrink than turn them into discussion leaders.  Socially, our church culture elevates people who are great public speakers, but we must be equally supportive of those whose participation is mostly inward.

Our main question must be:  “How will my students learn this?” Not, “How will I teach this to my students?”  It’s a critically important difference.

Callings to teach are invitations to enter a training program.  I wish that in our church we had a student teaching program like colleges have for education majors.  It would be great if people could serve as teachers while being under observation and receiving feedback and guidance from seasoned teachers.  Of course, we don’t have that the way a university would.  But.  Ideally a call to teach is taken as an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher.

Teachers can study the principles of “Teaching in the Savior’s Way.”  Teachers can study “Teaching:  No Greater Call.”  Teachers can practice principles and skills and methods taught in those types of materials.  Teachers can do a little self-evaluation after each class: “What was effective today?  What wasn’t?  What did I learn today about teaching?”  Really brave teachers could invite someone to come watch them teach and provide feedback.  Imagine teachers wanting to become better teachers to the point that they would invite some personal coaching!  (I’m going to do it.)

Learning to be a great teacher is ultra-important for all members of the Church—first because of its importance in our homes; and second because of our responsibilities to share the gospel with others.  All teachers should view the short time they get in teaching callings as an opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher.

Callings to teach are callings to leadership.  We sometimes think incorrectly about leadership callings in the Church.  We appropriately honor, follow, and sometimes even revere, those formally called to lead us.  This is often especially true of living prophets and apostles and also of bishops.

But when the Lord told people during the Sermon on the Mount that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we don’t understand Him to have been speaking to a gathering of formal religious leaders.  We picture that, rather, as a gathering of humble men and women and surely some youth and children.

The very notions of teaching and leading are inseparable; they are almost interchangeable.  There is a good reason why the Church Handbook refers people to Chapter 3 on Leadership when it discusses the calling of Teachers at other places in the Handbook.  Elder Holland quoted President Hinckley in conference—and then repeated it a second time for emphasis.  Pr. Hinckley said:  “Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church.”

This, by the way, is why you find the stake presidency speaking in your Sacrament Meetings and in Priest Quorums and Relief Society and in 5th Sunday meetings and other places.  We do not wish to shy away from our responsibility to teach.  You cannot imagine how much joy I take from the incredible teaching abilities of Pr. Vernon and Pr. Madsen.

All members of the Church share the purpose of full-time missionaries:  to invite others to come to the Savior and be healed by Him.  All of us are leaders.  All of us are teachers.

Callings to teach are callings to reactivate less-active members.  This is one of the things about calls to teach I am most anxious to change in our stake.  Isn’t it an interesting ritual we go through every Sunday where a roll is passed around Sunday School, marked off, and slid under the door?!  Does anybody have any idea what happens with that and what purpose it serves?  Well, we know what purpose it should serve!

When the Good Shepherd took roll and discovered that 99 of His sheep were present, he didn’t slide the roll back under the gate to the sheepfold and return to his less.  He went after the one who was absent. That was the perfect model of a Priesthood or Relief Society instructor, a Young Men or Young Women’s advisor, a Sunday School or Primary teacher.  That was the perfect model of a Gospel Doctrine teacher.  How many Gospel Doctrine teachers reach out to the absent?  All who don’t need to repent.  You are not called to fill 40 minutes.  You are called to save souls.  This includes—and probably especially so—the souls who are not marked “present” on the roll.

The calling of a teacher is a call to strengthen the less active—the absent.

Lastly, callings to teach are about helping others learn the simple doctrines that will change their lives—not about exploring fringe questions of curiosity and speculation.

I am convinced that many of our members suffer from a lack of understanding of some of the important, basic principles of the Gospel.  For example:

  • What is the significance of “works” in my salvation? Will my works save me?
  • Am I clean before the Lord right now or did I become unclean a few moments after I last took the sacrament and had an angry thought?
  • What is the relationship between faith and agency?
  • Why am I so distressed as a parent when God, the perfect parent, is happy?
  • Does God forgive me if I repeat sins I’ve repented for?
  • How many “R” words actually constitute all the steps of repentance? And what if I miss the sixth R on one of my 37 million sins?
  • How are sins removed at baptism?
  • Exactly what gets sealed to what in the temple?

My concerns on this subject were validated by a talk in General Conference a year ago.  Elder Randall K. Bennett began his talk with these words:

“My heart sank during a recent meeting with wonderful Latter-day Saints. The question was asked, “Who desires to live with Heavenly Father again?” Every hand went up. The next question was “Who has confidence you’ll succeed?” Sadly and surprisingly, most hands went down.” 

Why do we not have more confidence in the Atonement?  As teachers, we need to focus on the most important, basic principles of the gospel that will bless our lives.  Is it good for us to know how to think about multiple accounts of the first vision and seer stones and polygamy in the early days of the Restoration?  I think so.  But it is ultimately a better understanding of faith, repentance, ordinances, the Godhead, the Atonement, and the Plan of Salvation that we need the most.

Brothers and Sisters, I agree with the title of the book, “Teaching:  No Greater Call.”  We are all called to lead and we are all called to teach.  Sometimes we receive formal callings to teach in organizations in the Church.  When we do, let us worry less about teaching and more about people, how they’ll learn, what they need, how we will love and encourage the absent, and how we can become more effective at these things.

I testify that the Spirit of the Lord will inspire us as we seek to approach our callings as teachers in these ways and I do so in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Pattern of Priesthood Leadership

[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, October 2016.]

Good morning, brethren.  Thank you for being here this morning.  My Patriarchal Blessing reminds me to attend faithfully all the meetings at which I am expected.  I have tried to do that and it has blessed my life.  You are in the right place and I join you in looking forward to being taught by Elder Worthen in a few minutes.

Sometimes it seems to me that when women are spoken to in the Church, they are provided comfort and reassurance—whereas men are told to buck up, shape up, and get with the program.

I have come to the conclusion that there is a “healthy” way of approaching life and understanding ourselves, which allows us to see ways in which we need to improve without being discouraged or frustrated (or perhaps demoralized) by it.  It is, I believe, Heavenly Father’s desire that we strive for improvement from a position of security in the assurance that while we are striving, faithful, and observing our covenants, we are acceptable to the Lord in spite of our various needs for improvement.

And I believe that describes the vast majority of the men here this morning—faithful to the Savior, observant of and committed to covenants, and striving to magnify callings at home and in the Church.  It is my testimony that we may do so from a position of confidence and trust in the Lord.

Introduction

I would like to speak to you this morning about what must surely be the very most foundational aspect of effective priesthood leadership:  personal righteousness.  I often shy away from the word “righteous.”  I suppose I confuse it with “self-righteous” sometimes and I often think of the Savior’s comment, “Why callest thou me good?  There is none good but one, that is, God.”  Nevertheless, in our healthy way of striving for improvement, personal righteousness is what we ought to be striving for.

Let me begin by quoting the first paragraph of Chapter 3 from the Church’s Handbook of Instructions (Book 2):

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

Leaders can best teach others how to be “true followers” by their personal example. This pattern—being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples—is the purpose behind every calling in the Church.

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

I don’t think we talk about that pattern very much.  Perhaps that’s because it seems so obvious.  But I think we would do well to talk and teach about it more explicitly.  When an Elders Quorum presidency, for example, calls a man as a quorum instructor, the discussion accompanying that call could include a discussion of this pattern:  “You are being called, not to teach lessons, but to help others become faithful disciples of Jesus Christ—and to be able to do that effectively, you will need to be a faithful disciple, yourself.  What do you need to do and how can I help?”

Such a discussion would also be appropriate for bishopric members who are training young men to be leaders in Aaronic Priesthood quorum presidency meetings.  And we ought to discuss this pattern in our own presidency meetings.

Let me mention five fundamental areas of personal righteousness we need to all attend to.  I would invite you to take notes and teach these things to those you lead.  All come straight from the Handbook.

We should keep in mind that all men who bear the priesthood are called to lead.  Some may, at the moment, have formal callings of leadership within the Church, but all are called by virtue of the priesthood, itself, to lead others to Christ, beginning with those in our own homes.  Principles of priesthood leadership apply to all priesthood holders.

First, effective leaders must keep the commandments.  This is a broad notion with myriad associated specifics and applications.  All the law and the prophets are summarized in the commands to love God and to love our neighbors.  At the heart of our efforts to keep the commandments should be a conscious striving for expressions of love toward God, toward our families, and toward all people.

To keep the commandments, we must be honest in all aspects of our lives.  We must be faithful to our wives and our children in every way.  We must honor the Sabbath meaningfully.  And, we cannot be “Sunday Mormons” or publicly one way and privately another.  The integrity of our professed devotion must extend to moments both seen and unseen.

An excellent guide for all of us with regard to the commandments is the pamphlet, “For the Strength of Youth.”  In my family, our Family Home Evening lessons are often drawn from “For the Strength of Youth” which is certainly no less applicable to us than to our teenagers.  It is full of good counsel and reminders, which, exactly as its title suggests, will strengthen us as we follow them.

Second, we should study the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets.  Studying the scriptures is, I believe, essential nutrition for our souls.  Dietary nutrition makes for a good analogy.  If I get a steady diet over the course of a week or a month of all the vitamins and nutrients my body needs, I may notice some fairly immediate effect, but the most important effects will be long-term.  Conversely, if I eat a steady diet of junk food and empty calories for a week or a month, I may also notice some fairly immediate effects, but the most important effects of such a sustained diet will be long-term—only they won’t be that long term because I won’t live that long.

Similarly, I can study or not study scriptures and living prophets for a week or so and the short-term effects will be real but probably not staggering.  A steady, consistent diet of God’s word, however—or the absence thereof—has tremendous mid- and long-term effects.

These days I find three other things particularly important about scripture study in addition to consistency.

One is a steady connection to the Book of Mormon.  The purpose of Joseph Smith’s mission and the purpose of the Book of Mormon are to bring us to Christ.  The Book of Mormon does do that.  From my observation, members of the Church who grow skeptical of Joseph Smith, also grow skeptical of the Savior and sometimes lose their connection to Him.  The critical effects of the Book of Mormon are therefore twofold:  it brings us closer to the Savior in a direct way and it brings us closer to the Church, which also strengthens us in our relationship with the Savior.

Another is the importance of studying the words of living prophets.  I recently began reviewing again conference talks that were given 12 and 18 and 24 months ago—and this time preserving in my own electronic document the words and messages from those conferences that particularly touch my spirit and my mind.  Just as we ought not disconnect ourselves from Joseph Smith, we need to stay in touch with living prophets—all of which will help us come to the Savior.

Lastly, I have long believed that we need to be outstanding students of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  There we learn so much about the Savior, about our Father in Heaven, and about their love for us.

Do you need to study scriptures for two hours every day?  Not in my opinion.  But meaningful time in them each day has critical short- and long-term effects on our spiritual well-being.

Third, to develop our own personal righteousness in order to be effective leaders, we must pray.  Of course, there are prayers, and then there are prayers.  Prayers should be meaningful and they should be bi-directional as much as possible.  Prayers should include enough time to be still and listen to the thoughts and feelings we receive in return.

Prayers are best in my opinion when they are heavy on thanking and light on asking.  We shouldn’t ask for things we’re not willing to do our part for.  And sometimes we should pray for strength to endure challenges more than we pray for our challenges to be removed from us.

Prayers should be more than thanking and asking, though.  They should include worship.  Worship is personal and, in some ways, hard to define, but I believe it has a lot to do with the depth and sincerity of our gratitude and respect and of our recognition of God’s perfection and generosity toward us.  We can feel those things when we pray—and feeling them benefits us.

Fourth, we should fast.  We all know the scripture wherein the Savior taught that some problems are not solved except through prayer and fasting.  Fasting shows devotion, earnestness, and submissiveness.  This is true when we approach Fast Sunday purposefully—and also when we fast for special purposes outside of Fast Sunday.  Fasting can help foster unity for families, wards, and quorums.

As with prayer, we might consider sometimes fasting without tying our fast to a request.  We might fast purely as an expression of gratitude, an expression of humility, and an expression of worship.

Fasting connected to caring for the poor has many beautiful promises attached to it:

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.  (Isaiah 58:8-9)

Lastly, the Handbook mentions that if we are to lead effectively through our example, through personal righteousness, we should “humble ourselves before the Lord.”  What does that mean?

Nearest I can tell, all significant blessings associated with salvation, other than the resurrection, are tied to our humility. In 2 Nephi we read:

Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.  (2 Nephi 2:7)

I am convinced that, other than our covenants, the one thing that will most enable the Savior to save and exalt us is the achievement of having and maintaining a broken heart and a contrite spirit.  Such a heart reflects faith in the Savior.  Such a heart moves us not to occasional repentance, but to constant repentance.  Such a heart keeps me well within the bounds of my covenants and stops me from trying to test limits of obedience and submissiveness.

When the Savior encountered broken hearts during his earthly ministry, He responded with compassion and mercy.  When he encountered proud or rebellious hearts, he responded with chastisement and justice.  When I am sufficiently self-aware, I see that there is too much pride in my heart.  It is in my moments of legitimate humility that I find myself most at peace with myself and with the Lord—and I find myself in a position of strength because it is His strength I am recognizing.

Conclusion

Brethren, let me say again:  Holding the priesthood, and particularly the Melchizedek Priesthood, is a call to lead—to lead others to the Savior.  The very term “priesthood leadership meeting” seems redundant.  We who have come this morning have each been asked, though, to lead some specific people in some specific ways and our call to leadership is particularly clearly defined right now.

We will be most effective helping others come to the Savior when our own lives are in order, when our spirituality is healthy, and when we are striving for personal righteousness not just in our outward examples but in our very personal private lives.

That we may keep the commandments, study the word of God, pray, fast, humble ourselves, and do all other things that are necessary for our own spiritual strength is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Joy and Repentance

[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening of Stake Conference, October 2016.]

The Saturday Evening session of Stake Conference always brings together a wonderful group of people.  I am saddened by the absence of those who are not here and I hope that all of us will reach out in appropriate ways especially to those who are not here for no other reason than it just not interesting them.  But I am delighted to be with you tonight.

I once heard it said that spiritual maturity can be measured by the number of contradictions—or apparent contradictions—we are able to reconcile.  Like the fact that I am, as the scriptures say, “less than the dust of the earth” and, at the same time, as the scriptures also teach, a child of God with potential to become like Him.  I don’t know if it’s true that that’s how we should measure spiritual maturity, but it’s an interesting thought.

One of my concerns for the members of our stake is that we don’t reconcile very well the reality of our fallen state and carnal natures with the reality of the Atonement and its impact on us.  We can get too sad and discouraged by our shortcomings, inadequacies, and imperfections and not take enough joy in the blessings of the Atonement, in the promises of our covenants, in the effectiveness of the Plan of Salvation, and in the myriad reasons for us to be joyful and at peace, even during a mortal experience that includes tragedies and great disappointments.

Yesterday I found myself singing along in my car with the Tabernacle Choir.  Not to make light of life’s real tragedies but I often turn to the Tabernacle Choir following a close BYU football loss. I got curious about the song titled “This Is My Father’s World,” which I was singing along with and I googled it when I got to work.  It’s a popular Christian hymn, included in a Methodist Hymnal and, I would imagine, many others.  Let me share with you the last two stanzas:

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad! 

Tonight I would like to speak about a great source of joy and peace that we sometimes think of in unjoyful terms, but it is, in fact—or at least can be—joyful and that is repentance.

What is repentance and what is joyful about it?

I remember learning as a child, both at Church and at home, that repentance is a process with a number of discreet steps or aspects to it which can be specifically named and which all start with the letter R.  How many of these steps or properties are there?  I googled the “R’s of repentance” this week also and found a number of lists:  I found 3 R’s, 4 R’s, 5 R’s, 6 R’s, 7 R’s, and 8 r’s.  I may have found more than that if I’d looked harder, but I got tired of looking after I could find 9 R’s.

In my youthful mind, I saw these as sequential steps.  First I needed to recognize, then I needed to experience remorse, then I need to recommit, and so on…  I would need to go through this process for every sin of commission.  Then I would need to recognize all my sins of omission and do the same.  If I ever completed the steps for a particular sin but then committed the sin again, I would have thereby proven that Step 5, Reform, had not adequately happened after all, and then I would have to start again at Step 1.

Logically, to succeed at all that, I would essentially have to land at a place of perfection—where I never again repeated any sin and had paid at least some price for every sin I had committed.  It almost seems like I wouldn’t even need the Savior in such a scenario, because I would repent myself into becoming just like Him in the end!

While the various R’s of repentance are all more or less present in genuine repentance, I no longer think of repentance in those terms.  Nor do I think that Judgment Day will consist of me standing before the Lord while He reviews a very lengthy list of my debits and a short list of my credits.

When Enos and Alma the Younger received forgiveness of their sins in the Book of Mormon, had they gone through 4 or 6 or 8 discreet steps for every sin in their past?  When Jesus declared forgiveness to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof or to the woman who bathed his feet in her tears and washed his feet with her hair, had those people gone through these steps?

Let me mention something else from my childhood that I now think of differently.  I grew up around a lot Evangelical (or “Born-Again”) Christians who, thankfully, had a large impact on me.  Two of my Jr. High School teachers used to try to convince me that I wasn’t a Christian because Mormons place so much emphasis on “works.”  That introduced me to the whole debate about faith versus works and what saves us and what doesn’t and I learned to look down upon the protestant emphasis on faith and their downplaying of works.  After all, “faith without works is dead,” I learned.  We cannot be saved by faith alone.  Our actions matter.  I might have even thought at one point that our works will save us.

My views on this have matured since my youth. I now believe my protestant friends understood some things better than I did.  Do my works matter?  Of course they do.  I have covenanted to be obedient.  And the Savior said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  But if my works are going to save me, I’m doomed—even in spite of good efforts—and even if I can remember every step of repentance for every sin I commit.

Faith in Jesus Christ, however, is the first principle of the gospel and to love God is the first commandment.  I believe more than ever today that the good works, the obedience, and the commandment-keeping that matter most are the ones that emerge from sincere faith in the Savior and genuine love for our Father in Heaven.  I believe that our good works and efforts are more of a reflection of the depth of our faith in the Savior who will save us, than they are the things that will save us, themselves.

It is because of the value of our faith and love that Elder Holland’s recent teaching makes most sense to me.  He said, “The great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.”  Where our works fall short, our faith and love can still qualify and validate our effort.  Six times—in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants—the Lord refers to the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”  Because many times the sincerity of our hearts will trump the failures of our efforts.

But back to the question of “What is repentance?”  The LDS Bible Dictionary says “repentance” means “a turning of the heart and will toward God and a renunciation of sin.”  It also alludes to a change of mind and a new view about God and ourselves.

Sin is when we willfully disobey God or fail to act the way we know He wants us to.  Just as righteous actions reveal faith in God and love for God, sin reveals a heart that is not turned toward God, that is not soft toward Him, that is not sufficiently broken and contrite.

Repentance occurs when our hard hearts soften, when they break in a sense, and seek to realign themselves with God—followed by our behavior and/or our valiant, sincere attempts to change our behavior.  As Elder Holland indicated, God is patient with the sincere heart which earnestly strives, even when the desired result is not yet accomplished.  To repent is to turn—our hearts, our wills, our minds, our behaviors.

As I’ve gotten older and learned more, there are three interesting things I’ve come to believe about repentance and forgiveness.

One is that we cannot really repent of just one sin at a time.  We may focus on changing a particular behavior, we might even change one behavior at a time, but repentance includes a broken heart, a contrite spirit, an effort to realign my whole self with God.  Seeking to give God part of my heart while holding back another part doesn’t make the first part very sincere.  Perhaps this is why we remember hearing the Savior declare people’s sins forgiven, as in all of their sins; we don’t hear him saying that just some of their sins are forgiven them.

Another is that God is patient with the serial sinner who keeps on trying.  In Luke he instructed his disciples, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”  Similarly, I believe that as many times as we sincerely turn our hearts again toward God, He extends forgiveness to us.  Satan will seek to discourage us by tempting us to think that we will not be forgiven and to shrink with discouragement.  The Godhead, however, whisper to us to get up and keep going and they will stay with us while we continue forward.

The third is that I believe God’s forgiveness comes at the speed of a changed heart.  Our attempts to reform our thought and behavior patterns may take a little time even with great effort, but the Lord requires—and judges—the heart even while he allows our behaviors to demonstrate the sincerity of our hearts.

Is there joy in repentance?  Of course!  Enos and Alma experienced joy!

That’s like asking whether it is good to return to a home we love after an absence.   It’s like asking if lost sheep are glad to be found.  It’s like asking if the prodigal son felt the warmth of his father’s embrace.

It might seem strange that a process filled with “godly sorrow” can also be joyful.  But where does the joy come from?

The joy comes from completing the process.  If I made a list of R-words to describe the repentance experience, I would end with “receive,” as in “receive the love and forgiveness of the Lord through faith in Him and His atonement.”  You see, faith and repentance are completely intertwined.  My faith in God motivates me to turn and re-turn my heart to Him again and again.  My faith drives me to repent.  And it is that same faith that allows me to receive the blessings of the Atonement and of forgiveness and of standing clean before the Lord (even now and not just “some day”) because I believe now and trust now in the good news of the Gospel.  Our joy is in the Savior and it is both present and future.

Now one more point before I close…

Some sins are bigger than others and sometimes our sins are particularly egregious, making the repentance experience particularly acute with regards to personal sorrow, even pain.  At the same time, our joy from those experiences can also be particularly specific.  Many people experience a joyful sense of relief when confessing an egregious sin to their bishop.  Joy continues in such circumstances as people progress with behavioral changes and efforts to make restitution.  It culminates when a person exercises faith to believe that they have truly demonstrated a heart changed toward God and that God has responded.

But what about you and most of us most of the time when we are dealing only with myriad personal shortcomings and smaller-ish mistakes?  What about the soul—like most here tonight—who is generally and quite constantly striving to the do the right things and is not rebellious or willfully neglectful toward God?  Do we repent?  And do we experience joy?

My purpose tonight, knowing that I am speaking to many such people, is to invite you to a lifestyle which practices and experiences both a constantly broken and contrite spirit which constantly and over-and-over-again turns itself toward God—and simultaneously experiences the joy of knowing that the Lord accepts your sincerely humble and submissive heart and does, in fact, just as our baptismal covenant with Him indicates, cleanse us through the Holy Ghost, and forgive us of our sins.  I am inviting you to experience both contrition and joy at the same time, which may seem like two contradictory things, but they’re not.  They are more “cause and effect.”

Let us not understand repentance merely as the string of steps we go through when we have done something particularly bad.  Let us live repentance as a lifestyle, with a heart that is constantly contrite, with a consistent love of God; and while we do that, let us enjoy the promise of an ongoing cleansing of our souls by the Holy Ghost and with complete faith and trust that the promises of the Atonement apply to us both now and in our futures.  Let us live joyfully contrite, at least comforted, if not ecstatic about the reality of the Atonement and the reality of its effects on us.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Sacrament and the Sabbath (in two parts)

[These two talks were both given by Chris Juchau in the same Sacrament Meeting to three wards in September 2016]

[Part 1]

Brothers and Sisters,

This is going to be a little bit unusual, but I would like to take a few minutes to speak to you before the Sacrament is administered today.

I had a missionary companion once who was an excellent teacher.  One of the things he would do is invite the people he was teaching to imagine things with him.  He would say, for example, “Imagine with me for a moment that God really is our Father and that He cares about each of us as His children, including you.  Imagine that He is interested in your successes as well as in your concerns and questions and frustrations.  And imagine that He cares about the outcomes in your life.”  And then he would ask a question like this, “If you imagine God like that, can you also imagine that when you pray to Him, He listens—and not only listens, but will sometimes respond to the things you are talking to Him and asking Him about?”

It was an effective teaching method because it helped people think differently about things in a way they were willing to do.  This morning I would like to ask you to imagine something with me.

Imagine for a moment that you truly and very deeply love the Savior.  (Hopefully that is not something that is difficult to imagine.)  Imagine also that you don’t just love Him, but that you believe—truly believe—the Gospel—that is, 1) that He took upon Himself unimaginable suffering so that the debt we owe to Justice for the sins we’ve committed would, instead, be owed to Him, and 2) that He is willing to forgive those debts if we will remember Him and do our very best to keep His commandments, including His commandment to love one another.

Imagine that because you believe in the reality of His suffering and that His suffering was very personal (meaning that it was not just for everyone—though it certainly was for everyone—but it was also specifically for you because of your—and my—moments of foolishness and weakness and rebellion)… Because you believe that His suffering was personal and that His love for you is equally personal, you are also filled with tremendous gratitude and respect and awe for Him.  Imagine that the gratitude and respect and awe you feel for Him is so great that if He were to walk in this room right now, you would feel humility in a way that is deeper and more profound than you have ever felt it—and that, given the chance to have a moment with Him, you would know nothing to do other than to fall down at His feet and worship Him.

Well, He probably won’t walk into this room right now, but let’s imagine further…

Imagine that in the course of a typically busy week for you, you find out the very stunning news that the Savior is coming to a certain place at a certain time and that you are invited to be there and to meet Him.  In fact, He wants to see you and hopes that you—specifically you—will come.  Further, you learn about the nature and purposes of this event.  These include 1) that you will experience the Savior’s love in a very personal way; 2) that all who come will worship him—not so much through any particular ritual of worship but through pausing to feel the feelings they have for the Savior in their hearts—the gratitude and respect and awe I mentioned earlier—and not just for a fleeting moment, but for a little, sustained while; and 3) each person who comes to this event will be given the opportunity to stand and, with the Savior present, declare their level of personal commitment to Him.  Each will be asked if he or she is willing—and if he or she pledges—to follow him, to remember Him, and to try to do everything that He asks.  Each person will make their declaration publicly to some extent, but the main thing is that the Savior will be there and He will not only focus on you and look into your eyes while you make your declaration, but He will perceive the true, genuine intent of your heart.  And 4) you will not only feel His love, but you will feel His acceptance and you will know that because of Him you are clean and worthy and fully acceptable to Him.  And you will feel His peace.

Imagine lastly, that you know that you can look forward to this event because you know that His love and forgiveness are greater than any sense of shame or embarrassment or guilt you might feel as you approach Him at this place.

The question is:  If you can imagine such an event coming, how do you also imagine you would approach it?

As you realize, this is why we are here today.  We have known throughout our week that a day was coming soon where we would be able to come and meet the Savior.  It’s unlikely that we will meet him here today in a physical sense.  He probably won’t come walking through the door.  But that doesn’t make our meeting Him here today any less genuine.  “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  If I come here in His name seeking Him, I will find Him.  The Savior said through the prophet Jeremiah:  “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”  He wants us here and hopes that we will come.

When we come to Sacrament Meeting intending to worship, it is very likely that we will feel here His love and His peace.  The words spoken by the speakers in the meeting may or may not contribute to that.  The words and spirit of the hymns we sing will almost certainly contribute to that.  But for the most part, the love and peace we experience won’t be the result of any exterior influence on us other than the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost will help us as we are receptive to him and as our hearts are thoughtfully turned to the Savior.

Note that with the exception of the Sacrament, itself, Sacrament Meetings contain almost no symbolism.  Other than the Sacrament, there is no real ritual or ordinance.  Things are generally not spoken from the pulpit as symbolic metaphors or riddles, but rather as plain, simple teachings.

The Sacrament experience, however, is different.  We all know from the time we are little that the sacrament bread represents the body of Christ and that the sacrament water represents his blood.  But the symbolism of the sacrament is with us throughout the entire meeting and there are things to ponder from the moment we enter this sacred room—which is made sacred first and foremost by its inclusion of the sacrament table.  (We do not consider symbolism enough.  Which may be why when some people go to the temple to receive their endowment and have not been well prepared for the experience, they find it so odd and have a hard time connecting to what is presented.)

Consider, though, some questions like these:

  1. Why is the sacrament placed on an elevated surface?
  2. Why is it at the front of the room?
  3. Why are white cloths placed both beneath and above the bread and the water?
  4. Should I consider as I enter a chapel for sacrament meeting that the Savior’s body is present and is being conspicuously presented to me, though covered?
  5. Why are the priests careful to only uncover one—the bread or the water—at a time?
  6. What is a priest? And why do priests lead the administration of the sacrament?
  7. How significant is the symbolism of a priest standing and literally breaking the symbol for the Savior’s body in front of us?
  8. Why does a priest kneel when he prays?
  9. What does the sacrament prayer mean?
  10. What does it mean that the bread and the water are not just blessed but also sanctified?
  11. What does it mean that they are sanctified to my soul and to your soul?
  12. What does it mean to “witness unto” God?
  13. What does it mean to take upon ourselves the name of Christ?
  14. What does it mean to remember Him—and to always remember Him?
  15. What does it mean to keep His commandments and how does that relate to my imperfect state?
  16. What does the promise at the end mean? What is the significance of having His spirit with me?
  17. What does it mean when a deacon receives the sacrament from a priest and presents it to a member of the congregation?
  18. Why should deacons and priests have clean hands and a pure heart?
  19. What does it mean when a member takes a piece of bread in his fingers and puts it into his mouth? What is he doing?  What is he saying?  Is he doing or saying anything of significance at all or is he merely eating a piece of bread?
  20. Similarly, with the water? To what extent are a member’s heart and mind consciously expressing something when she drinks the water?   To what extent is her heart receiving something?
  21. What does it mean when I pass the symbols of the Savior to the person beside me?
  22. To what extent should I consider the presentation of the sacrament to be a reenactment of the Atonement?

You may think of other questions.

Though we gather in a large body and though we participate in the ordinance of the sacrament as a group, each of us takes the bread and water into our hands and mouths individually, separately.  It is intended to be not just an individual or personal experience, but an intimate experience, the intimacy being between ourselves and God.  Each of us has the ability to make this a sacred, intimate experience.

I have told many candidates for receiving their temple endowment that in my own experiences with the endowment ordinance there have been many times where I have felt or learned something and there have been some times when I have not.

Similarly with the sacrament.  I know from experience that I can sit through a sacrament hymn, watch the priests and deacons, take the bread and the water and not experience much of anything at all.  I also know from experience that I can have a very meaningful, worshipful, and affirming experience when I approach the sacrament thoughtfully and consciously.

It is my prayer that we will—today and always—so approach sacrament meeting and the ordinance of the sacrament:  thoughtfully, consciously, worshipfully.  It is my testimony that our Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Holy Ghost are involved in the ordinance of the sacrament and that receiving them weekly through a sincere renewal of our commitments to them will bless our lives and strengthen us.

I pray that we will approach the sacrament each week with a powerfully strong sense of humility and reverence.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[Part 2]

Brothers and Sisters,

This is an unusual sacrament meeting today.  I do not recall ever attending a sacrament meeting with just one speaker—let alone having that speaker provide two separate talks.  Part of me wants to apologize for that and part of me does not.  I do not wish to seem self-important in any way today.  On the contrary, I wish to help turn our hearts and minds toward the Savior and toward true worship of Him.

Let me tell you, though, why this happening.

We believe in living prophets.  I believe in living prophets.  I neither worship them nor believe that they are perfect or infallible.  Yet I believe that I should seek more understanding before declaring anything they have done—past or present—to be wrong.  We do not believe in a single living prophet.  Nor do we believe that only one man may receive revelation for the benefit of the entire Church.  What we do believe is that, of the 15 living prophets / ordained apostles among us, one of them has received the responsibility of exercising all the priesthood keys on the earth today and of declaring or defining revelation that applies to the entire Church.

I have experienced over and over again that my life is blessed when I follow the teachings and counsel of these men, which I have not done perfectly, but have done successfully and unsuccessfully enough to know that good things come from following their teachings and bad things come from disregarding their teachings or from taking them lightly.

Do you know what those prophets are very specifically asking us to do today and are you doing it?

Nearly a year and a half ago, those brethren declared to us that upon petitioning the Lord to know what they should do to help build faith and strengthen testimonies of Church members, the answer came back that we should do a better job of keeping the Sabbath Day holy.

Though talks have been given about the Sabbath in General Conference since then and Ensign articles have been published, it has largely fallen to local priesthood leaders—stake presidencies and bishoprics—to help members understand and receive the invitation to elevate both the significance of the Sabbath in our own hearts and minds and to elevate our practices and customs and rituals of observing it.  This applies both to our experience at Church during the three-hour block and also to our experience at home during the Sabbath.

I do not think that we have done enough in this regard in our stake because I don’t think that most of us have responded sufficiently to this invitation.  For the month of September, we decided that the stake presidency would take the place of high councilors in speaking to the wards and that we would try to teach clearly about this topic.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I have ended up with a lot of time in this meeting to try to do so.  I thought it would be good to speak specifically about the sacrament and to do so before we took the sacrament today.

I would now like to say a few things about our observance of the Sabbath during the rest of the day when we are not at church, but usually at home.  I would like to touch on four things…

(1) Saturdays are Important

Everyone in my generation knows the Primary song called “Saturday.”  For some reason, it is not sung very much in Primary these days.  It teaches in simple words that Saturday is an important day because we are planning to observe the Sabbath on the next day and in order to do that effectively, we’re going to have to plan ahead and take care of some specific things on Saturday.  It is about consciousness in our worship.  It’s about acting instead of being acted upon.  It’s about priorities.  It’s about putting God first in our lives.

According to the Bible Dictionary and other sources, our homes and our temples should be similarly sacred.  While this should be true all the time, surely the Sabbath deserves a special effort to make it so.  Our homes should be particularly conducive to worship on Sundays, which means their being clean and orderly with a peaceful atmosphere, probably supported by appropriate music.  Having our homes prepared for the Sabbath takes some effort.  In many families, Saturday chores are common.  We might teach our children the connection between the work we accomplish on Saturdays and the experience we seek on Sundays.

Not just our homes, but we, ourselves, require preparation.  Let me give you an example fresh from my own experience.  Last Saturday night, a week ago, my son and I were invited by a dear friend to attend the BYU-Utah game up at Rice-Eccles Stadium.  I had never before ventured onto such unhallowed ground and thought it was a chance I shouldn’t miss.  I had to get up early the next day, but since the game started at 5:30, I thought it might be OK.  Of course, the game took a very long time and I got to bed later than I’d hoped.  Furthermore, the game was so exciting, I had a hard time shutting off the adrenaline.  After falling asleep sometime after 11:30, I woke up at 2:50 never again to fall asleep before the alarm went off at 4:00.  I think my Sabbath went alright but I can’t say that I put myself in the best position for it.  Contrast that with last night where I DVR’d the game and got a good night’s rest.

The point of that story is not that you’re a sinner if you go to a late-night football game or a saint if you don’t.  But it was an illustrative reminder to me of the value of preparing for the Sabbath.  I would, though, encourage adults and teenagers who are inclined to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning (or later) to consider the benefits of getting a good night’s rest in time to experience a full and well-prepared-for Sabbath.

(2) Preparation for the Sacrament Begins at Home

My second point is similar; it is that participating in the Sacrament should be considered the most important event of the day and that meaningful participation in the Sacrament begins at home.  In my calling, when I have an appointment with somebody—whether at the church or in their home—it doesn’t work for me to be listening to pop music or sports radio as I drive to the meeting and then hope to immediately turn the Spirit on when I turn the radio off and suddenly be at my best.  Being in the right frame of mind or mood takes a more conscious, thoughtful effort.

None of us would consider going to that meeting with the Savior with no thought for preparation other than to hurriedly throw on some “Sunday” clothes and hustle over there, listening to pop music (or not) on the way over.  Rather, we would be anticipating a spiritual and sacred occasion and we would be asking ourselves often in advance whether we are clean and prepared to be there.

Our Sundays with the Sacrament should be similar.  We should go to bed Saturday night and get up Sunday morning knowing that we have a planned encounter with the Savior and planning to approach it the right way.  We should be ready for church in time to address—and, as necessary, to correct—our frame of mind before we go out to the car or walk to church.  If we have had conflict with a family member, we should address that.  The Savior taught us to “first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

Many Mormons are social people.  Indeed, we come to Church not merely to be strengthened but to help provide support and strength for others.  It is hard not to come into the Chapel and be social.  For some people, it is exceptionally hard to see when being social might be good but not best.  I’m not prepared to suggest a zero-tolerance policy for sociality in the chapel.  But I do think it is important to get to our seats in time to quietly consider the music, to consider the significance of the presentation in front of us of the body of Christ under a shroud, and to be introspective about our readiness to approach Him and what we will say to Him in our hearts as we take the sacrament.

Obviously, there are some family situations—such as having small children and/or being a single parent—that create large challenges.  And sometimes, in spite of admirable plans and efforts, things just go south on us.  In all such cases, we should just do our best and know that the Lord accepts that.  Most of us most of the time, though, do not have exceptional circumstances and we can prepare at home and come prepared.

(3) Dos and Don’ts and Singleness of Heart (D&C 59:13)

Over the years, a lot of Sunday School lessons have included discussions of do’s and don’ts on the Sabbath.

  • Is it OK to watch TV on Sunday?
  • Is it OK to watch sports on Sunday?
  • Is it OK to take a one-hour nap on Sunday? What about a three-hour nap?
  • Can I buy something on Sunday? What if it is from a vending machine?
  • Can I attend a concert on a Sunday? What if it’s from a non-Mormon Christian rock group?
  • Can I play basketball in a rec league on Sundays? What if I’m just shooting hoops in my driveway?
  • Do I have to wear my church clothes all day?

In the talks and discussions coming from general Church leaders over the last 18 months, there has been an explicit avoidance of “do and don’t” lists.  Instead, principles have been taught and members urged to carefully make thoughtful decisions based on important principles.  Let me mention four such principles.

The first two come from statements made by the Savior during his mortal ministry.  It seems He was forever being criticized for healing people on the Sabbath.  It seems, too, as if He sometimes healed on the Sabbath exactly to make a point to those critics.

On one occasion, Pharisees were criticizing the Lord’s disciples for plucking ears of corn on the Sabbath.  In his confrontation with those Pharisees the Lord taught that “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”  Here we understand that people are more important than trivial rules and that the choices we make regarding our Sabbath activities should take into account their impact on people.  Perhaps taking a nap to refresh or renew ourselves could be a good thing.  Perhaps spending too many hours asleep keeps us from doing things to serve others.

On another occasion, the Lord was about to heal a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath in front of critical Pharisees.  He confronted them with a question he used multiple times: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath day?”  On yet another occasion, where he taught of lifting a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath day he emphatically answered His own question, “It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.”  Note here that the Sabbath is not intended to be a day of rest in terms of doing as little as possible.  Rather the Sabbath is a day to rest from our usual activities.  But it is not a day to refrain from doing good.  A person could keep the Sabbath it seems and even be quite busy at it.

Of course, many activities can be justified as being “good.”  As Elder Oaks reminds us, though, we have to make careful judgements about what is good, what is better, and what is best.

The third principle comes from Section 59 of the D&C wherein the Lord states that meals should be prepared with “singleness of heart” and which I think suggests that all Sabbath day activities be done with a “singleness of heart” in the sense of having an eye single to the glory of God.  On the Sabbath especially, we worship God and we express our devotion to him.  His wishes and desires for our Sabbath activities should govern our choices.

Lastly, the Old Testament teaches us in three different places that the Lord intends for the Sabbath day to be a sign between us and God.  Elder Nelson said this in conference a year and a half ago:

“In my much younger years, I studied the work of others who had compiled lists of things to do and things not to do on the Sabbath. It wasn’t until later that I learned from the scriptures that my conduct and my attitude on the Sabbath constituted a sign between me and my Heavenly Father. With that understanding, I no longer needed lists of dos and don’ts. When I had to make a decision whether or not an activity was appropriate for the Sabbath, I simply asked myself, “What sign do I want to give to God?” That question made my choices about the Sabbath day crystal clear.

This is what seems to be the key question that should govern our behaviors on the Sabbath.  What sign or message am I sending to God by picking this choice?  The message from Salt Lake City today is one of concern that we are not sending the right sign, that we are forgoing blessings because of that, and that the invitation to improve in this area, issued 18 months ago, has not been sufficiently responded to.

(4) Keeping Ourselves Unspotted from the World (D&C 59:9)

The final idea I want to touch on today also comes from Section 59.  The Lord makes reference there to our Sabbath experience keeping us “unspotted from the world.”  This concept also seems to be an immediate concern of living prophets.

As I have travelled around the world, I have sometimes encountered people whose dress and outward appearance clearly identifies them as adherents to a particular religion, presumably devout adherents thereof.  I have seen Orthodox Jews, practicing Muslims, Sikhs, Amish, Buddhists, and probably others.  Two weeks ago, Becky had a wonderful and somewhat surreal experience sitting in the new Philadelphia Temple’s Celestial Room during the open house there as she was surrounded by 20 or so Amish people.

Sometimes we see people and suspect they are LDS by a certain look, but that is much more difficult.  Generally, Mormons are not readily identifiable.  However, as the world’s standards continue to erode while the Lord’s standards remain firm, it will be increasingly important that we stay with the Lord and not slide with the world.  That means not only a willingness to be different from the world, but a willingness to be increasingly different from the world and a willingness to appear different.

Regarding the Sabbath, our choices need to constantly be brought back to the Lord, toward a singleness of purpose toward him, and to doing good on the Sabbath.  The world may think it’s fun and cool, for example, to devote one Sabbath every year to worshiping sport on Super Bowl Sunday.  We may justify that as we might justify just about anything by doing that with our family.  But is that the best sign to give the Lord or is there something much better?  We must be anxious to do things—including observing the Sabbath—the Lord’s way, which will increasingly mean appearing differently from the world even if we don’t dress in obviously religious ways.

Conclusion:  What Are We Asking You to Do?  Family Council and Offer a Sign

In conclusion, Brothers and Sisters—and I thank you for indulging me so long today; it’s tedious to hear one speaker speak this much!—I renew an invitation to you.  If you have already done it, I invite you to do it again.

That invitation is to counsel together as a family.  Hold a family council.  Discuss your observance of the Sabbath.  Discuss your preparation for the Sabbath on Saturdays and your preparation for the Sacrament from home on Sunday mornings.  Discuss your family’s choices of activities.  Most importantly discuss the signs that your family are sending to God.  Consider the signs that you, personally, are sending to God, independent of other family members.

And ask yourselves these questions:  Have we responded to the Prophet’s call for us to elevate our observance of the Sabbath?  And, if prophets are today expressing concern that members have not adequately responded to that invitation, should we also be concerned that our response has not been strong enough?

I testify of the love of our Father in Heaven.  I testify of the goodness He shares with us when we humble ourselves before Him and yield our hearts to Him.  I testify of the goodness He shares with us when we keep our covenant to always remember the Savior and to keep His commandments.  I testify that blessings accrue to us for keeping the Sabbath.  I also know that there are even better reasons to properly observe the Sabbath than because we can expect blessings for so doing.

May we take this invitation seriously.  May we respond to the Lord’s prophets on the earth.  That we will is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.