Faith, Patience, and the Plan of Becoming
We existed before we were born. There are some important things we know about that and a lot that we don’t. We know that we’ve always existed, at least as some form of intelligence, and that God didn’t just create intelligence or matter “out of nothing.”
We know that God has a body of flesh and bones and that he somehow formed for us bodies of spirit that are in the form of his own physical body. Through this, or perhaps before, he became our father and is the father of our spirits. He was not alone in this. Though we know little about our Heavenly Mother, it is essential to understand that we are the spiritual offspring of Heavenly Parents, both male and female.
Gender is critical to who they are–and to who each one of us is. Each of us “is a beloved son or daughter of heavenly parents.” “Each [of us] has a divine nature and destiny.” “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
Therefore, attached to our gender are qualities of our nature (what we are), our purpose (why we are), and our destiny (where we’re going). To be a daughter of God is wonderful, purposeful, majestic, and divine. To be a son of God is wonderful, purposeful, majestic, and divine. They are equal. They are not the same.
As children of Heavenly Parents, the intended destiny for each of us–without exception: male or female, black or white, gay or straight–is to become like our Heavenly Parents. Men like our Heavenly Father. And women like our Heavenly Mother. Our intended destiny is to gain their respective capacities and perfections, to love and lift in ways that they do, and to experience joy and happiness in ways only they can. They experience joy and happiness in the most complete senses of those words. They invite us to follow their path to realizing that same ability.
To help us fulfill our destiny of becoming like them, Heavenly Father created a plan. This involved creating an earth for us. For reasons I don’t understand, earth is the place where we can gain a physical body, no matter how briefly we’re here. It is apparently also the only place where physical ordinances can be performed–by us or for us–that open certain doors and activate certain powers on our behalf. If we survive infancy and are accountable, earth is also that place–intentionally more distant from our Heavenly Father’s immediate presence–where we can gain experience through agency and adversity.
The Plan addresses potentially problematic concepts that seem to pre-date the plan. These include agency, justice, and accountability. Without some compensating intervention, our failures with agency will cause us to permanently separate ourselves from our Heavenly Father and from our destiny of becoming like Him. Jesus volunteered to resolve the demands of justice for our mistakes and failures, but with conditions for us. We would have to believe and trust in Him; we would have to develop a humble, broken heart and an enduring attitude of contrition.
We would have to become formally devoted to Jesus and to our Father in Heaven and to living laws that are consistent with being like them–such as those called out in the Baptismal, Endowment, and Sealing ordinances. While the resurrection is a free and universal gift, overcoming the penalties of our sins is not–all of God’s grace notwithstanding. We can only fulfill the plan to become like our Heavenly Parents through sincere faith and repentance and by fulfilling the terms of our baptism and temple covenants.
Not everyone liked the plan. Consistent with the apparently inviolable nature of agency, we were not forced to accept it. A war was waged. This was surely a war fought to persuade, not to force. I imagine that the casting out of the third part of the host of heaven was more about the natural consequences of badly used agency than it was about the wrath of an angry God. The God who weeps, surely must have wept at the refusal of so many of his children to trust in Him and His plan–a challenge each of us still faces.
You and I chose our Heavenly Father’s plan and placed our full reliance on the Savior.
Now I want to reiterate something here… Our goal in this life is not merely to return to God. The Book of Mormon teaches that we’re all going to do that, anyway. And, since we were already with Him in the pre-existence, being sent away from Him merely to see if we could make it back, doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. There was from the beginning a greater and clear purpose–the understanding of which is key to navigating many difficult topics that challenge people’s faith today: the goal is for us, as sons and daughters of God, to become like Them. By definition, becoming means that how I am tomorrow will be different than how I am today. Becoming means changing.
The goal has always been to change–from the incomplete versions of ourselves that we currently are–to complete versions of ourselves, with all the abilities and capacities of our Heavenly Parents, male and female. Heavenly Father’s goal for us, which we accepted and even fought for, is for us to become something different than we were in the pre-existence–and something still different than we are now.
To say that who or what I am today is who or what I must be in eternity is to deny the significance and nature of God and reject the wonderful possibility of becoming like Him. God does love you and me today, as we are. That does not mean that his hopes and plans and invitations for each of us is limited to our current stage of development.
The outcome we should pursue is not one that doubles down on our current natures–for “the natural man is an enemy to God”–but rather the outcome of having our natures changed by coming to the Savior and meeting His conditions. It is not by digging our heels into who we are today that will bring us to the greatest conclusion, but by yielding what we are today to the enticings of the Holy One.
Also important: Because Heavenly Father’s plan is perfect–and because the Savior’s Atonement is infinite–our destinies can be realized independent of our circumstances in mortality. You can be short or tall, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, talented at this or talented at that… One primary thing will determine our outcome–and it is not our current condition or circumstances. It is our agency. God will not force any of us. We will choose–either our full destiny–or some diminished, though still positive, version of it.
Note that God, Himself, is subject to the law of justice. Alma 42 tells us that if God attempts to ignore or work around justice, He will cease to be God. But because of the Atonement of Christ, we can trade the worst consequences of our sins for devotion to and a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father.
The role of the Church in this process should not be overemphasized. Nor should it be underemphasized. The Church is not God. But fulfilling our destiny requires a covenant relationship with God that is specifically and consciously entered into by both parties. That covenant relationship must be formalized through a properly authorized physical act (an ordinance) on the earth. The Church is the steward of God’s authority on the earth and is the only entity authorized right now to bind us and God to each other in that covenant relationship through which He can help us become as He is.
The Church is run by human beings. Revelation is real, but it doesn’t come as a constant, detailed, complete set of instructions to Church leaders. We should not allow the mistakes of human Church leaders to separate us from the priesthood keys which they can exercise on our behalf. A mistake made by a Church leader does not prove that he holds no priesthood keys. It reflects that he is human.
We neither worship Church leaders nor claim they are infallible. Church leaders do, however, have a special relationship with God’s authority which gives them a perspective that is different from yours and mine. When our opinion of something contradicts theirs, we should pause before concluding that we’re right and they’re wrong. We should especially pause before letting that difference remove us from the blessings we can enjoy when they turn priesthood keys on our behalf and on behalf of those we love.
One of the sillier common criticisms of our Church is that we have a sense of exclusivity, meaning you have to be a “Mormon” in order to get to heaven. In fact, we believe every single son or daughter of God will have an informed opportunity to enter into a covenant relationship with their Heavenly Father and Savior. Passing through the pearly gates will have little to do with “church membership,” per se, and much to do with the legitimacy of mutually binding covenants.
Mortality is fickle. It is full of beauty, joy, wonder, and miracles. It is also difficult and painful. While it is true that blessings follow obedience, the often embraced companion to that idea–that an exemption from pain or hardship also follows obedience–is horribly misleading. We must try to learn to accept this to avoid being spiritually blindsided when it happens. No amount of faith, repentance, and devotion may spare any of us from pains and tragedies that faithful disciples don’t “deserve.” Just ask Abinadi, Joseph Smith, the original twelve apostles, or some deeply faithful members of our own stake. Do blessings follow faith, repentance, and devotion? Absolutely. Are those blessings sometimes material? Yes. Are they sometimes immediate? Yes. But often they are not material and often they are not immediate. Faith and repentance bring rich and immediate rewards, but some blessings will be received in eternity.
We must not lose sight of the fact that our goal is to become like our Heavenly Parents, which involves yielding ourselves to a process whereby our very natures are changed. This process is not comprised of checklists. The Pharisees attempted the idea of checklist salvation and where did that get them?
Checking a list of do’s and don’ts will not punch our golden tickets into the Celestial Kingdom. Not even ticking all the boxes of receiving each of the saving ordinances will do that. Success is more about becoming than it is about doing–at least in the Pharisaical sense that so easily slips into our thinking. Should we keep the commandments? Yes! “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” But ours is not a doctrine of formulaic or checkbox salvation.
Neither do we believe in relative rankings and outperforming our neighbors. God does not judge on a curve. We believe in loving our neighbors, not in comparing ourselves to them–or them to us. Each of us should become like our Heavenly Parents via the covenant path, but individual experiences along that way will vary.
The questions we should ask ourselves are less about the check boxes and more about the attributes we’re developing. We should ask… Do I truly love God and put Him first in my life? Do I strive to emulate the Savior? Do I love the people I encounter–including those different from me–or who aren’t nice to me? Am I honest? Am I humble? Am I meek? Am I kind and compassionate? Do I strive to serve and to lift? Am I learning patience? Is my heart soft enough to forgive those who harm me and those I love?
“We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.” (The phrase “all mankind” is radically inclusive.)
I suspect it is not, technically, the saving ordinances that will save us–but, rather, the change that God brings about within us when we strive to live the principles connected to those ordinances and to being in a true covenant relationship with Him. This involves effort from us–and is why complacency is a sin–and striving (even when we fail!) is a virtue. Perfectionism sounds helpful, but it is not.
Obedience probably doesn’t save us because we’re checking boxes, but because it creates the conditions in which God can bring about the change we came here for. It is true that we are tested in life, but I imagine this life is less about a pass-fail test than it is about learning and becoming.
What happens after this life? Again, we know a little–and there’s a lot we don’t know. We know there is a separation between the faithful and the less faithful in the spirit world. We know the gospel is taught there. We know that ordinances performed on earth can be accepted there. We know there will be a resurrection and a judgment. All will be resurrected. But not all resurrected bodies will be identical. We know that Jesus will be our judge–and our mediator and even our advocate. It’s been suggested that that process will look more like our being invited in than being kept out. It seems that, in the end, only one thing will keep us out–and that is the agency that we started with.
We do not know exactly how long the process will take between death and something that may be considered a final judgment. Nor do we know the extent of what can happen within that process. We know that we are already invited to become perfect like our Heavenly Parents–but since we obviously don’t achieve that in this life, there is some additional process of continued becoming. We know that we should look on our present situation with a sense of urgency and be anxiously engaged–avoiding the sin of complacency — but with faith and trust instead of spiritual anxiety.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.” That is certainly true of material things, but there is a long list of things we can take with us, including: our covenants; our knowledge and experience; our history of choices, desires, and priorities; our character development; some aspects of our “sociality”; our priesthood; and our continuation along the plan of salvation–or, maybe it could be called the Plan of Becoming. We will definitely take with us what we have, so far, become.
What is the point of all this? The point is this… You and your loved ones are children of perfect Heavenly Parents. They love each one of Their children. They have provided a plan whereby we can become like Them. We know some fundamental, important things about that plan, but our missing knowledge of many details invites us to trust.
We should exercise faith and patience with the things we don’t yet know. We should trust our Father in Heaven and our Savior and their love–and stick with the plan we accepted–not merely because we accepted it, but because its authors are not missing any knowledge, they love us, and they know where the plan will bring each of us if we stick with it. We should exercise faith and repentance; we should understand and try to keep our covenants; and we should strive to grow in Godly attributes, always leading with love.
I testify that we have a Father in Heaven and a Savior. I testify that if we will follow their plan with faith and patience, we will become like them with a fulness of joy, even if we don’t currently see how to connect all the dots to getting there. Hence, faith. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Infinite Power of the Atonement
[Stake Conference, October 2019]
The Book of Mormon uses the adjective “infinite” eleven times. Many Book of Mormon prophets spoke of the Savior’s “infinite goodness,” as well as of his “infinite mercy” and “infinite grace.” Nephi and Alma each made multiple references to the “infinite atonement” that would be brought about by the Savior—and also to His “infinite sacrifice.”
I am concerned that we sometimes place limitations on the Savior’s “infinite atonement,” which do not, in reality, exist. If and when we do that, we deprive ourselves of peace and of the joy Elder Christofferson spoke of in General Conference last weekend.
There are two general limitations we sometimes create that I would like to speak to. The first involves the Savior’s ability to help us heal and become whole from our own sins, challenges, and failures. The second involves the Savior’s ability to forgive and heal those who have hurt us.
I would like to bear my testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of joy.
It is true that all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So much so, that, in the absence of miraculous help, there is literally no hope of us returning to Him and experiencing all the goodness that is associated with being with Him. On our own, we are hopelessly lost.
But. We are not on our own. Miraculous help has occurred. Jesus, motivated by complete devotion to His Father—and also by a great love for us, condescended to come to earth, where he gave himself as that “infinite sacrifice” and thereby brought about the “infinite atonement.” Of course, many of the resulting blessings of his sacrifice will be fully realized in our futures. But many of them can be enjoyed now. When we falsely limit the reach of his power and the effects of His atonement, we forgo joy that should be ours now.
Elder Christofferson reminded us of Enos’s father’s reference to “the joy of the saints.” That joy should is fully within your power to experience as you exercise faith and practice repentance. Perfection is not required. Trusting God and striving to align ourselves with Him is. Those are both well within your and my abilities.
Now, first. The effects of the Savior’s infinite atonement are not limited in their ability to make you whole (except by your choices). Twice in just the last two weeks, I have visited with a distraught member who was so sure that he had become spiritually hopeless that suicide seemed like an alternative worth considering. Both believed that they had moved too far away for the Savior to reach them.
Both were wrong.
A favorite scripture of mine asks this question, “What doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?” And then the answer, “Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him,” and, interestingly, “neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”
The most wonderful gift imaginable has been bestowed upon you and me on conditions of our acceptance through faith and repentance. It is the gift of the Savior’s miracle. When we receive the gift, we rejoice and experience joy. So does God. When we reject the gift, either through limiting our faith and trust in the Savior or by holding onto our sins, we do not rejoice. And neither does God.
Let me tell you of another experience I have had with individuals on multiple occasions. It is sacred and personal to me. It is related to the three stories we find in Luke 15.
There we read about the lost sheep. That story ends with the Savior saying, “joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.”
We also read about the lost coin. Similarly, the Savior concludes: “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
Lastly, we read about the prodigal son and the reception he received, including hugs; expressions of love; and a celebration with music, dancing, and merry making.
What I have experienced with people who are sublimely humble and broken-hearted is the joy in heaven over the repentant soul—and the welcoming of him or her into heaven’s arms. I do not know how to articulate how I have experienced this, but it has been as though I could hear it. As if I could hear that “joy in the presence of the angels of God.” And I have felt it in a penetrating way. I know that heaven rejoices over each of us as we turn ourselves toward the Master.
How do you receive the gift and experience joy? You drop the idea that the effects of the Atonement cannot apply to you, no matter how little you may think of yourself or what unpleasant comparison you may make of yourself to others—no matter what situation you are dealing with that you think cannot be overcome. You receive the truth that the power of the Savior extends to you—to your whole you—now and always, as long as we are broken-hearted and striving to follow the Savior and correct our course when we err.
You are not, nor can you make yourself, beyond the Savior’s power.
Second. The effects of the Atonement are not limited in their ability to make others whole who have wronged you, nor in their ability to ultimately make you whole from the wrong you have received from them.
Let me tell you a true story about two families I first became aware of four or five years ago. This may be a difficult story to hear and to appreciate. In both families, there was a father, a mother, and children. In both families, the father tragically committed a heinous crime and was sent to prison. The crimes of these two men were nearly identical and they went into the system at the same time, having received similar sentences from the State of Utah.
Five years ago, I got to know one of these men. I will call him Ken. I became acquainted with the other, whom I will call David, when I happened to attend both of their parole hearings in prison about four years ago. Both were denied parole at that time and given another four years before they could have another hearing with the Parole Board, which they did a few months ago.
I have been impressed by the efforts made by these two men to repent of their sins and become new creatures. I am impressed by their reliance on God and the faith that drives their repentance and their striving for forgiveness. I love them. Particularly Ken, whom I know reasonably well.
One of the lessons in these two men’s stories comes from their respective families’ responses to them over these last ten years or so.
Ken’s children immediately began writing to him in prison about how they missed him and expressed love and support for him. His ex-wife, however, expressed no such support and, as the years went by, the support of the kids faded and ultimately disappeared. Efforts to communicate with the kids from prison went unresponded to. In Ken’s first parole hearing, his family spoke against him. Four years later, they spoke against him again—this time with great bitterness and vitriol—and he was given three more years.
In this family, it does not appear that any healing has occurred within family relationships. On the contrary, there is clearly much pain and what seems to be open and festering emotional and spiritual wounds throughout the family. Dad is left emotionally isolated in prison while children, now adults, no longer know the man they once loved. Nor do they understand or appreciate the changes that have occurred within him. Dad’s only form of comfort, if you could call it that, comes from understanding that it was his own actions that started this tragedy and there is nobody to blame but himself for putting into motion all the pain and negativity that have followed.
David’s family is an interesting contrast.
Shortly after David’s second hearing, just a few months ago, in which he was granted a release that has since occurred, I happened to chat with his wife for a few minutes. That was just a short while before he was to be released and she told me both how excited she was to have him get out of prison and also how nervous she was about the transition and difficult road yet ahead while he remained on parole. I did not sense any bitterness although there is no doubt she has been through terrible pain as a result of his actions. There was both happy and nervous anticipation.
The next day after my chat with David’s wife, I was visiting with Ken in prison. David was also in the room being visited by his 20-year-old daughter. As all the visitors exited the prison together, I struck up a conversation with that daughter. I had noticed her and her father, David, talking while they held hands and seemed genuinely happy to be together. I asked her how she felt about her dad getting out soon and she said she was looking forward to it. I asked her if she had always felt so positively toward her father. She said, emphatically, no. I asked her what changed. She said she began visiting him and discovering the changes he was making and that those changes softened her heart toward him.
I left the prison that day feeling heavy for Ken’s loneliness—and simultaneously delighted and privileged to have witnessed some of the healing that had happened in David’s family.
Three times, brothers and sisters, Jesus of Nazareth raised people from the dead during his ministry in Jerusalem.
In one instance, Jesus encountered a funeral procession. The only son of a widow was being buried, and when Jesus saw the mother, he was moved with compassion. He said to her, “Weep not” and then returned the young man to life and to his mother.
On another occasion, the Jewish leader Jairus told Jesus that his 12-year-old daughter was home dying. Before Jesus arrived, he was told that it was too late; she was dead. To which Jesus responded, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” Then, while the scriptures say people “laughed [Jesus] to scorn,” he called the girl to arise and she arose and was reunited with her family.
On the third occasion, Jesus intentionally waited for days after Lazarus’s death before going to him. When he arrived, Lazarus’s sister Martha met him, distraught that Jesus had not come sooner. Jesus explained to her, “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And, as you know the story, Jesus called Lazarus back from the dead and reunited him with his sisters Mary and Martha.
Why did Jesus return the dead to mortality—and to their families? Obviously, it was not required for their eternal salvation. He did it, I feel quite certain, to show all of us that he has the power not only of the resurrection, but the power to forgive, even when things may seem to us completely hopeless. Before Jesus raised the man sick of the palsy to his feet, he sensed the doubt in others that he had the power to heal both spiritually and physically. He preceded that healing with the words, “They ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.”
Brothers and Sisters, Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, has the power to forgive your sins, the power to forgive those who sin against us, the power to fully heal. Each and all of us can only limit the application of that power (to ourselves) by refusing to accept the gift. We find joy and peace in our lives when we accept the gift, both for ourselves and for others who have hurt us or our loved ones. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” Forgiving others does not mean that we don’t permit appropriate boundaries or consequences, but it does mean accepting the gift of the atonement both on our behalf and on behalf of others. So doing bring peace to our souls.
Perhaps the ultimate blessing from accepting the Savior’s gift as truly infinite is that, through it, we are reunited to our families—both our heavenly, eternal family, and our earthly, hopefully likewise eternal, family.
Jesus Christ is infinite in his goodness, in his mercy and grace, and in all his perfection. He lives. The effects of his atonement are infinite if we receive them. I pray that each of us will. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Joy and Faith
[Stake Conference, April 2019, General Session]
As this conference comes to a close, I would like to offer an encouraging word…
Men (and women) are that we might have joy. Can we really have joy in this life? Not very well if we think joy is the result of everything going perfectly (or nearly perfectly) in our lives. Joy does not come from living the life that everybody else is trying say they live through their social media. Joy does not come from being outwardly attractive or popular or financially successful. It doesn’t come from being healthy, though we should strive to be healthy. It doesn’t come from being good at something, though we should strive to be good at many good things. It doesn’t come from serving in a particular calling, though we should all strive to serve well. It doesn’t come from being righteous.
Where does joy come from?
Toward the end of King Benjamin’s sermon, his people humbly cry out for mercy and for the atonement of Christ to be applied to them. Here is what happens next:
“the Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ.”
From this story, joy is the result of knowing that our sins have been remitted, of having peace of conscience, and having faith in Jesus Christ. King Benjamin later says to his people, “ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls.”
On another occasion, Alma mentions three sets of opposites: “good or evil, life or death, joy or—[its opposite]—remorse of conscience.” Alma would understand this. Of the height of his conversion, he said, “And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy… and… there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was joy.”
How did he get to that joy? Immediately before that joy came, he says,
“I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy … concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world. Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more.” And then he speaks of his joy.
His life didn’t become perfect. It was difficult. He didn’t become perfect, I’m sure. He probably disappointed himself, occasionally. But I would bet you, based on what we know of him, that he retained his sense of joy which came to him because of his faith in the Savior and because he believed what the Savior had done for him.
I believe that too many of us are living with too little joy. We are burdened by the challenges of life, by disappointments in ourselves, and by the struggles of our loved ones. But that is not what causes us to miss out on joy. We miss out on joy because we are slow to believe that the Savior has done for us what he has done for us. And we can be slow to place our faith in him regarding loved ones and situations beyond our control.
We must accept what Jesus has done for us; accept that our sins have been remitted; loosen the death-grip we sometimes have on our guilt and self-loathing; and receive the gift of the Atonement.
Have you ever read the stories of Jesus healing a person and thought it would be wonderful if that had been you? Think of the ten lepers who were healed; the woman with the issue of blood; Peter’s mother-in-law; blind men; Lazarus; Jairus’s daughter; all the diseased and disabled Nephites who were brought to him…
These healings were wonderful for the people who received them and their loved ones. But Jesus’ mission was not to physically heal people. There are millions of people before, during, and after the life of the Savior who have lived in miserable conditions and were not physically healed. All the Savior’s physical healings were metaphors.
Jesus came so that all can be healed spiritually—that all can receive a remission of sins and, like Alma, have our guilt swept away.
He healed those people physically, so that you may know that he can heal you spiritually. A leper was made whole so that you and I will understand that we can be made whole from even persistent sin. He healed the Gentile woman so that you and I understand that his healing applies to all, including you and me. He raised Lazarus and the son of the widow from Nain so that you and I understand that there isn’t anything he can’t overcome.
Why do we persist in believing that we are dirty?
When you were baptized, you received a remission of your sins. Minutes later, you were confirmed and invited to receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost so that, upon condition of a broken heart and a striving to change and improve, we would, through that priceless gift, retain a remission of our sins. Retaining a remission of our sins is not dependent on our changing. It is dependent on our striving to change (which is largely what repentance is) and on our retaining faith in the Savior.
Remission of sins isn’t a one-time, momentary experience. It is with us as long as our faith in the Savior is genuine and active.
In the temple, we receive blessings which, in more than one respect, are unspeakable. Those were not one-time pleasant moments. Actually receiving those blessings now (including promises of some blessings that will be realized in the future) is where joy comes from. All based on the Savior and our connection to him.
The Anti-Nephi-Lehies testified that God had “taken away the guilt from our hearts, through the merits of his Son.”
We have to ask ourselves this question: In which do I place the greatest faith: my failings or the Savior’s success; my imperfection or his perfection; my guilt or his forgiveness? My failings, my imperfections, and my sins are absolute realities. But all of them are weaker than the Savior’s success. Otherwise, he would not have healed Lazarus. Nor would he have declared to the paralytic—straight in the face of those who opposed him—“thy sins be forgiven thee.” He didn’t do that just for Lazarus or just for the sick man. He did it for you. Joy is yours if you believe him.
Sometimes, people accuse members of the Church of Jesus Christ of not being Christian. In those moments when we hold more tightly to our guilt and self-loathing than to the Savior’s forgiveness, they might be right.
Let’s remind ourselves for a few minutes of one of the great stories from Jesus’ life and teachings. There is great joy for all who believe it.
It is the story of two actual people who are opposites and it is also involves a parable.
Jesus accepts an invitation to eat with a Pharisee named Simon—in Simon’s home. An unnamed woman is also there. She is only identified as a sinner—by Simon—though Jesus also acknowledges this.
During the meal, the woman weeps, washes Jesus’s feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses his feet, and applies an ointment to them. Simon is disgusted that Jesus permits this. Jesus perceives Simon’s thoughts and says these tender, ominous words, “Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee.” And then he tells this parable:
“There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.”
Please note the point in the story at which the creditor (God) forgives the debtors (us). It is when they accept and acknowledge that they have nothing to pay, which indicates that their hearts had become truly broken and their spirits contrite. When we hold fast to the idea that we must be righteous in order to qualify for heaven, we are believing that we have something to pay. That belief keeps us from joy.
Jesus then asks:
“Which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast rightly said.”
We can take from this that the more we recognize our dependence on the Savior, the more we will receive forgiveness and the more we will love Him.
Jesus then turns to the woman, but speaks to Simon:
“Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.”
And here it comes:
“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.”
Why were her sins forgiven? Because she loved the Lord, acknowledged her inability to save herself, acknowledged his ability to save her, and had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Why did Jesus not declare Simon’s sins forgiven? Because his heart was hard. He failed to express love for the Savior. And he believed more in his own righteousness than in the Savior’s ability to remedy an inability to pay.
Brothers and Sisters, our outward acts of righteousness will do very little for us.
On the other hand, a love for God, genuine humility before him, and our sincerely striving to follow him will enable him to do everything for us.
Am I saying that we don’t have to succeed in our efforts to follow the Savior? If that’s a yes/no question, then, yes, that’s what I’m saying.
Am I saying that we don’t have to humbly, sincerely strive with all our best efforts to keep the commandments, keep our covenants, and follow the Savior? No. We must strive. Enduring to the end in faithful effort is part of the deal. We must be deeply sincere in our efforts. We must recognize our failures and shortcomings. We must experience Godly Sorrow—frequently if not constantly. Repentance must be our way of life.
The scriptures say that if we follow God and keep the commandments, we will prosper. Is that true? Absolutely. If we do so with a humble dependence on him and a willingness to accept the realities of the Atonement, we will experience peace of conscience and joy. Will I be exempt from cancer or from job loss or from the illness of a child or from a child’s painful choices? Of course not. The greatest, joyful prosperity comes in our hearts and minds through our faith in the Savior. Will we prosper temporally? Yes, to the extent that we follow principles of self reliance and it is the will of God. Even the righteous eventually get sick and die.
Nephi said, “I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.”
That we may glory in Jesus, exercise faith in him (and not merely belief), and experience the joy of having our guilt swept away in Him is my prayer for every member of our stake. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Twelve Things to Teach Our Children at Home
[Ward Conferences, 2019]
In our last General Conference, President Nelson said, “The long-standing objective of the Church is to assist all members to increase their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and in His Atonement, to assist them in making and keeping their covenants with God, and to strengthen and seal their families… Scriptures make it clear that parents have the primary responsibility to teach the doctrine to their children.”
Our conference today focuses on the idea of home-centered church—or home-centered gospel learning. I would like to suggest twelve things that parents should especially teach their children at home—and that children should make a point of learning.
First is the nature of our relationship with God.
God is our father. He loves us as a perfect father would love his children and desire their development and happiness. Jesus Christ is our brother and also loves us with a perfect love.
Neither of them will tolerate or excuse any sin – yet their plan for us provides an escape from the worst effects of sin for those – and only for those – who love them and submissively receive them.
When I imagine meeting the Savior or my Father in Heaven, I anticipate feeling great love. I imagine receiving an embrace that will melt all my feelings. I imagine an overwhelming gratitude that helps me embrace them back. However, for all their kindness and goodness, I do not think of them as my “chum” or my “buddy.” I also imagine at that meeting an overwhelming impulse to prostrate myself before them in acknowledgement of my nothingness and in total awe and respect for their perfection.
God is to be loved and gratefully reverenced.
Faith is one of those lovely thoughts that seems so warm and cozy when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. But the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and not just on the unjust. And those of us who fancy ourselves just are sometimes quite shocked and indignant, even feeling betrayed or abandoned, when the rain falls hard on us.
How will your child react when the rains of life have the water up his chin? What does God’s plan for us really look like? Why is uncertainty an essential element of the mortal experience? What is the role of adversity? How am I special? And how am I not? Why did God leave his Only Begotten alone in the Garden of Eden? And why will he leave you and I (more or less) alone at moments to experience things on our own? Why should I trust God in those moments? And what does it mean that faith is a principle of action?
Each of us feels a responsibility to dress our small child in a warm coat when they must be out in a cold rain. How much greater our responsibility to teach our children to trust God in their toughest moments.
We need to teach our children how to develop testimonies. Where does a testimony come from? The Holy Ghost is the most important place. There are additional evidences that the doctrine of the Church is correct and that the Church is led by men with legitimate priesthood keys.
Our children need to know how to pray, how to try to recognize the Spirit, and how to observe the impact of following the teachings of the Savior and the counsel of living prophets. They need to know the critical importance of the Book of Mormon.
They also need to see and hear our testimonies, which we must each nurture. This brings us to…
What is your daughter to do when she has questions that might challenge her testimony? Here is a catastrophic scenario for how she might handle it.
- First, she encounters a truth that is easily open to criticism, such as: Joseph Smith had some young wives in addition to Emma.
- Second, she thinks this might be a game changer and wonders why nobody ever told her before.
- Third, she thinks it possible that people have been trying to keep unpleasant truths from her so her best bet for exploring this is from people outside the Church.
- Fourth, she immerses herself in the viewpoints of so-called “anti-Mormons” and “former Mormons.”
- Eventually, she opts out of church activity.
In this scenario, she has taken an understandable path for someone who believes people have been trying to hide things from her.
How might parents handle this better?
- They might teach their children about Church history and about the Church’s reasons for its same-sex policies and about its love for gay people and all
- They might teach their children that questions are normal and good and that they have no need to fear expressing them.
- They might teach their children about the answers we have to their questions, including in Church-published materials.
- And they might teach their children about the fact that we don’t have an answer to every question – and about how we handle unknowns.
I recently heard two mistaken expressions with regard to someone who had committed an egregious sin and, wonderfully, wanted to repent and move on. The first was that this person decided to go to his bishop to “begin the repentance process.” The second was that, in so doing, he wanted to get his sin “taken care of.”
Well, repentance does not begin with confession. And talking to him won’t “take care of” the issue.
For some sins, talking to the bishop is an essential step. But even then, repentance doesn’t happen in the bishop’s office. Repentance happens inside a person’s heart. Repentance isn’t a two-step, five-step, or 50-step process. Repentance is a genuine change of heart and mind that inevitably results in a change of behavior; it is a reorientation of a person’s entire life toward God.
Genuine repentance is the most rewarding and comforting—and one of the most testimony-building experiences that we can have.
Sixth, the Holy Ghost.
We parents generally do a decent job of teaching their kids about the Holy Ghost. When an 8-year-old is interviewed for baptism and the Bishop asks about the role of the Holy Ghost children give some good answers:
- He will warn me of danger.
- He will comfort me when I’m sad.
- He will help me know what is true.
- Some even know that the Holy Ghost will testify specifically of Jesus.
I think we need to teach them one other very important thing. Her is how Elder Bednar put it, quote:
“The Holy Ghost is a sanctifier who cleanses and burns dross and evil out of human souls as though by fire… Receiving the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost in our lives creates the possibility of an ongoing cleansing of our soul from sin… We are blessed both by our initial cleansing from sin associated with baptism and by the potential for an ongoing cleansing from sin made possible through the companionship and power of the Holy Ghost.”
“May I respectfully suggest that our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son do not intend for us to experience such a feeling of spiritual renewal, refreshment, and restoration just once in our lives.”
Your children know that they were clean at baptism. How many of them understand that they can be (and many are) as clean now as they were then?
If you’re unrepentant, you’re in serious trouble. If you’re humble, repentant, and striving, the Holy Ghost is cleansing and sanctifying you on an ongoing basis and you are clean.
Seventh, teach your children about the ordinances and covenants beyond baptism.
Do you—both dads and moms—know how to teach your sons and daughters about the covenant of the Melchizedek Priesthood? What does it mean to receive the Priesthood, the Savior, and His servants? What does it mean to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God? What does it mean to magnify your calling?
If your sons think that serving a full-time mission is a bigger deal than receiving the Priesthood, then we’ve failed them and their future wives and children.
What about the Endowment? Will you provide your children with the same level of unpreparedness that we received from our parents? Or will you help them understand what it means to make a full, adult-level commitment to God and to ponder and learn?
Parents would do well to focus more on their kids’ preparedness for the temple than for a mission, though the latter is also important. Parents might also help their children who aren’t serving full-time missions consider the timing of receiving their Endowment and the wisdom of receiving it well ahead of their temple marriage.
Eighth, being a missionary.
We must undo the compartmentalization of missionary work in many of our minds. Nobody should start being a missionary when the stake president sets them apart. And nobody should stop being a missionary when they are released from their calling.
A great topic for family discussion is how to be a conscious, active missionary without a name badge.
Let me share with you four statements from Church leaders.
First, from LDS.org: “The law of consecration is a divine principle whereby men and women voluntarily dedicate their time, talents, and material wealth to the establishment and building up of God’s kingdom.”
Next, Joseph Smith: “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary [to lead] unto life and salvation.”
Next, Bruce R. McConkie in General Conference:
“The law of sacrifice is a celestial law; so also is the law of consecration. …we must be able to live these two laws.
“Sacrifice and consecration are inseparably intertwined. The law of consecration is that we consecrate our time, our talents, and our money and property to the cause of the Church: such are to be available to the extent they are needed to further the Lord’s interests on earth.
“The law of sacrifice is that we are willing to sacrifice all that we have for the truth’s sake—our character and reputation; our honor and applause; our good name among men; our houses, lands, and families: all things, even our very lives if need be.”
Lastly, the following statement is included in this very first week’s study material in Come Follow Me—For Individuals and Families. It says, speaking of the infamous “rich young man,” “What he learned—and what we all must learn—is that being a disciple means giving our whole souls to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
Tenth, many are called, but few are chosen.
Setting our hearts upon the things of the world and aspiring to the honors of others—whether through misguided ambitions, social media, or neglect of God and His commandments—will keep us from the blessings of heaven. “To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
How do we, as families, establish and maintain proper priorities and be spiritually minded? What a great topic for a family discussion!
Eleventh, perfectionism and vulnerability.
There is a little epidemic that runs through Utah County LDS culture. It manifests itself in our trying to convey to each other that all is well with us and we have no challenges or struggles. We try to look good on the outside and keep others out of our insides. The answer to every “Hi, how are you?” is “Fine, how are you?” because we can’t change the subject fast enough.
Smiling, looking nice, and keeping a nice home, of course, are not sins.
The problem is when we create a culture based on shame and judgmentalism. Too often, we are following Satan’s advice to “hide” out of unhealthy shame and we do it to avoid the judgments we imagine from others—judgments which are frankly not coming if we’d allow ourselves to discover that.
I don’t think we should go around reciting to everyone we meet all of our failures, shortcomings, and embarrassments. But I do think we need to teach our children how to be real and vulnerable and how to create a community of genuine love and understanding.
How do our sons learn to become outstanding husbands and fathers? Two ways, I think. We hope their own fathers’ examples will teach them positively. And we hope some good things will rub off on them if they go to Church.
But it’s not enough. All fathers set bad examples in addition to good examples, and osmosis doesn’t magically and sufficiently happen at church. We need to be explicit and address the subject head-on.
This will require vulnerability from fathers to teach what they should be instead of who they are. And it will require a willingness from mothers to explain to both their husbands and sons what a wife needs and what genuine manhood looks like to a woman.
Paul said men are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. Boys need to be taught by their fathers and mothers what it means to love a woman in a Christlike way.
Brothers and Sisters, a new era has come to the Church. Our homes are to be the center of our worship, our study, and our development. Fathers and mothers have a divine responsibility to teach their children.
I testify that President Nelson holds priesthood keys and is the mouthpiece of the Lord today. I testify that Jesus Christ lives and is our Savior. And I testify that life eternal is to know God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
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.
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.