[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.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening adult session of Stake Conference April 2016.]
You have already been asked tonight to do a couple of things. I’m going to ask you to do one more thing, which is to believe the gospel. Let me tell you what I mean by that.
The word gospel very literally means “good news.”
In the first chapter of Mark, King James Version, the first words we hear from the Savior are these: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (In many other translations, those last words read: “repent and believe the good news.” In the New Century Version, the Savior says, “Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!” – exclamation point!)
We need to believe the good news. We need to receive it and accept it.
What is the good news? The good news is that, because of the Savior, His Atonement, and His Grace, we have a clear path back to our Father in Heaven. But there is more. The good news includes that this path is not impossible. It does not require perfection in this life—nor does it require us to be constantly or even frequently weighed down and disheartened by our shortcomings and weaknesses. The good news is that the one who will ultimately judge us is the same one who will be our advocate. The good news is that to all of life’s other challenges we do not need to add the burdens of feeling inadequate, unworthy, and imperfect—even though we are all inadequate, and imperfect. Rather, we are free to embrace the Good News and all the joy, positive anticipation, and buoyancy that comes from believing it.
Am I suggesting that we get a free pass and don’t have to do anything? No, but between the lie that you don’t have to do anything and the lie that you have to do and be everything (which is the lie I’m trying to address here) is the truth that the Lord wants our commitment to our covenants and He wants our hearts to be humble, contrite, sincere, and—in a wonderful and liberating sense—broken. He requires our striving, but He does not require our perfection right now and he does not require you to beat yourself up over your imperfection. In fact, what He wants is for you to believe the gospel—the good news—which is that if you give him your sincere, broken heart and your sincere effort in support of your covenants (and surely many here today do), then He has you and your inadequacies and deficiencies covered. His grace is sufficient.
Consider D&C 88:33. I talk about this little verse a lot, but I don’t think I’ve been teaching it very effectively, so I’m going to keep trying. In this verse, the Savior asks this question:
For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices no in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
Alternatively: For what doth it profit a woman if a gift is bestowed upon her, and she receive not the gift? Behold, she rejoices not in that which is given unto her, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
A gift has been and is being offered to you and me. It is a gift of kindness, a gift of generosity, a gift of mercy, a gift of grace, a gift of perfect love. Will we receive it? Will you—do you—really believe the gospel, the good news? Jesus once dined with a man named Zacchaeus and said to him: “This day is salvation come to this house.” Brothers and Sisters, salvation has come to your house. The question is whether you will receive it. And to fully receive it, you’re going to have to “drop your burden at His feet and bear a song away.” You’re going to have to believe that He has taken your burden. You will have to be yoked with Him, but His burden is light.
A few weeks ago, I decided to read Pilgrim’s Promise by John Bunyan, written in England in the 1600s. It is an allegory about a man and his wife making the difficult journey to heaven. At the beginning, the hero (his name is Christian) labors down the strait and narrow path with a heavy sack on his back that he is unable to shed. But there comes a point early in his journey when he encounters the traditional symbol of the Savior: the cross; and when he comes to it and worships there, his burden miraculously falls from his back. He is not done facing adversity. He still faces difficulties and tests and he still has to avoid making major mistakes along the way, but from that point on, he does so without being crushed by the weight of his own imperfection.
It is a good allegory. You and I will have plenty of adversity and difficulties and tests during our life. Repentance from all of our sins should be constant, lifelong effort. If we sin in particularly egregious ways, we should turn to the bishop for help right away and he will help. But there is no need to face life’s many challenges with the unnecessary burden of our defects and petty sins weighing us down.
In our particularly intense LDS culture in Utah County, we are especially adept at setting aside the good news in favor of the bad news which we tend to heap upon ourselves which weakens the quality of our lives. We do things like this:
- We insist on comparing ourselves to others as a means of depressing ourselves almost like we’re addicted to it. In doing so, we reject the truth that the standard we really need to measure up to is the generous and compassionate one the Lord offers us.
- We insist on appearing as near-perfect as we can toward each other. We over-stress about our outward physical and spiritual appearance and the appearance of our things and we keep our challenges so private that we create the destructive illusion of being virtually problem-free. We sort of air-brush the outward appearance of our lives to others lest we will not be accepted.
Two siblings will sometimes play a game of “villain and victim.” One pokes the other and then the other screams and whines about being poked. Mom gets upset with one who then blames the other and everybody gets lots of attention from Mom. We sometimes make a similar arrangement with each other. I decide I’ll try to look perfect and you decide to believe that I’m perfect. I get to enjoy the pride of someone thinking I’m really great and you get to enjoy the misery of feeling inadequate. Like the two children, neither of us really ends up happy.
- We take the concepts of self-reliance and works too far. Are you supposed to do all that you can do? Of course. Are you supposed to give it your all? Of course. Should good works accompany your faith? Of course. Will you save yourself? No chance. Will your good works save you? No chance. None. It is good to humbly do our very best while living a religion of complete and total surrender to and reliance on Him who becomes the father of our rebirth. We are totally dependent on Him and we ought to acknowledge that and rejoice in His perfect reliability.
- We pound ourselves with what seems to be the literal meaning of Matthew 5:48: be ye therefore perfect. I reject the apparent meaning of that verse as it stands alone. Do I hope to become perfect one day like my Father in Heaven? Do I think that I should strive to become perfect? But I believe the rest of the doctrine taught in the scriptures about perfection, which includes the fact that He will perfect me; He will make me whole and complete as I yield my heart to Him. I cannot insist on my own immediate perfection and, at the same time, receive the gift He offers me, which gift is the very means of letting go of the burden of my imperfection.
- Lastly, we judge others too harshly. We forget that the gift that is offered to us is also offered to them and that the Lord sees things in their hearts we’ll never see. He also knows all the background and backstory. His bowels are filled with compassion and mercy toward the broken-hearted. We would do well to judge enough to keep ourselves safe—and little or no more than that.
Why is it that so many good people trying so hard hesitate so much when asked the temple recommend question, “Do you feel worthy to enter the temple?”
I was so thrilled to hear Elder Bednar’s talk in this last General Conference. Quite frequently I have asked people during interviews, “Is it possible that you could be sitting here with me right now just as clean as you were when you exited the waters of baptism?” Many people seem confused by the question. It does not seem to register that they could be spiritually clean today. But how else could any of us possibly have a hope of making it to heaven, into which no unclean thing may enter?
Elder Bednar taught that it is possible, as King Benjamin taught, for us to always retain a remission of our sins. You and I can be retaining a remission of our sins right now, at this very moment. Surely a great many here are doing exactly that. Yet too many are unwilling to believe the Good News and say with humble confidence, “Yes, I am worthy to enter the temple.”
Notice that in the same verse from King Benjamin which references “always retaining a remission of your sins,” these two phrases are also present: 1) “[ye shall] be filled with the love of God” and, 2) “ye shall always rejoice.”
We frequently teach that covenants are “two-way promises” and we correctly focus on the promises we make through covenants. But the Lord would like us to receive the gift of his promises to us and He would like us to rejoice in them. Remember, that when we receive the gift, He also rejoices “who is the giver of the gift.”
We have a tendency to under-appreciate the Gift of the Holy Ghost. He will testify to us of the Savior. He will help bring all things necessary to our remembrance. He may provide warnings to us on occasion. But He also sanctifies and cleanses us as we remember and follow the Savior. Elder Bednar speaks of the Holy Ghost providing “ongoing cleansing” for us. In that we may rejoice, indeed, and be of good cheer.
In the time I have spent outside of Utah County, mostly in Seattle, I have been close to two groups of notably religious people: Mormons and Evangelical (or “born-again”) Christians. I have long noticed and been impressed by the smiles and happiness of my born-again Christian friends. I have also been impressed, though not in a particularly good way, by the muted happiness of so many Mormons. Clearly, the true doctrine and restored authority within the LDS Church should make us the most Christian people on the earth. And therefore nobody should have a greater understanding of the reasons why—or greater reasons to embrace the reasons why—we may feel so much joy inside ourselves that it is also outwardly noticeable.
Brothers and Sisters, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of joy and peace. That joy and peace isn’t just for disciples of the Savior who have no problems. All disciples of the Savior have problems. Some of them are very acute. You may have worries and struggles right now that are just eating you inside out. You may be struggling with health, with employment and finances, with testimony, with addiction, with your marriage, with loneliness, discouragement or depression—or perhaps even more difficult, you may be intensely hurting for loved ones who are struggling with those things and whose struggles you cannot remove.
The good news of the gospel extends both to you and to the ones you love and worry about the most.
The message of the gospel includes hope and optimism and trust. I join so many of you when I say that when we place our trust in God, when we lean on Him, when we receive His gift and drop our burden at His feet… in those moments our trust is well placed. It is, in fact, perfectly placed.
May each of you feel a great sense of joy and life and hope and buoyancy through the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May you receive the gift with both humility and confidence in Him. May we trust in Him who is perfectly trustworthy and who has your very best interests (and those of your loved ones) as His interests.
I testify that John the Baptist, Joseph Smith, President Monson and 14 other living special witnesses—and the Savior, Himself—have come bearing Good News. I pray that you and I will believe it, accept it, and allow Him to lift the burden of our shortcomings and failures from off our backs. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.