[Stake Conference, October 2018]
When I was a teenager growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, it seemed to me that, with respect to religion, there were four kinds of kids at my school. There was a large group who seemed very irreligious. There was an even larger group who were inconspicuously Protestant or Catholic and didn’t speak of it much. There were the self-proclaimed “PTL” kids (PTL stood for Praise the Lord) who were very conspicuous “born-again” evangelical kids. And then there were the so-called “Mormon” kids. There were very few of us, but people knew who we were even though we generally dressed the same as they did and played the same sports and musical instruments and attended the same classes as everyone else.
My non-member friends and acquaintances during Junior High and High School knew me as a “Mormon.” They knew I wouldn’t smoke, drink, or swear. They knew I wouldn’t be at certain types of parties and that I believed in chastity. In fact, if I did anything they thought wasn’t straight down the middle of the road, they would remind me that I was a Mormon and shouldn’t be doing that. For me, peer pressure wasn’t as much about pushing me to do the wrong thing as it was like guardrails keeping me on the straight and narrow.
There was always a little undercurrent of an unspoken rivalry between those of us in the Church and the Praise the Lord born-again kids. We knew we were right and they were wrong, and they knew they were right and we were wrong, and we were generally too immature to handle our differences in a very productive or instructive way. We mostly stayed away from each other.
When I was in 8th grade, a girl from my ward asked me if I would help her with two teachers at our school who were asking her questions about our religion that she wasn’t very comfortable with. Mr. S., a science teacher, and Mr. W., an English teacher were challenging her, and her parents told her she should get a priesthood holder with her, and there weren’t many of those to choose from, so I was it. The four of us started meeting over brown-bag lunches while Mr. S. and Mr. W. tried to explain to my friend and me that Joseph Smith was a fraud and that we needed Jesus because we really weren’t Christians and the path we were on was going to lead us straight to hell. I will spare you details of our many lunches, but suffice it to say that those experiences became foundational in my testimony as I was forced to think about what I believed and why I believed it.
I have pretty much been in Utah for the 34 years since I graduated high school. Most of the kids I went to school with I haven’t seen in many years and am merely facebook friends with now. Mr. S. and Mr. W. I don’t even recall ever seeing again after Junior High. I don’t have too many regrets regarding those men. I learned a lot from our discussions and I did my best to teach them and even to testify to them. I tried my best to convince them that I believed in the same Jesus they did and that, just like them, I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior and was every bit as committed to Him as they were. They didn’t buy it, but I feel like I did the best I could, particularly with them being more than twice my age.
I do have a regret, though, regarding my non-member schoolmates—and I have thought about this since President Nelson’s remarks regarding the name of the Church. Those kids knew me very well as a “Mormon.” But I was not having brown-bag religious debates with them and they didn’t know what “Mormon” meant—at least not from me they didn’t. They knew that I was a straight arrow compared to lots of kids and they knew that I was religious, but they didn’t know much about the actual substance of my religion.
What if the term “Mormon” never existed? What if the only way that I ever referred to myself—or that the world ever referred to us—was as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Mr. S. and Mr. W. probably still wouldn’t have been satisfied. But how great would it be if all the kids who knew me well as a teenager knew me as a person who loves the Savior instead of a person in an odd religion they knew little about that was called “Mormon”? Honestly, the PTL kids did a much better job of communicating what they believed than I did. Fortunately, a lot of us are still facebook friends and I can still do something about that.
Shakespeare asked the question, through Juliet, “What’s in a name?” And he answers his question in wonderful Shakespeare style, “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;” suggesting that the name doesn’t really matter. But it’s interesting to look at those lines a little more carefully.
In the play, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are in love. The dilemma is that the Montagues and the Capulets don’t get along and so theirs is a forbidden love. One morning, Romeo overhears Juliet speaking about him from her upper-floor window. She is openly lamenting his name.
O, Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;–
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name! that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:–Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
As lovely and fun as those words are, Juliet’s argument that a name doesn’t matter isn’t always true. Why not? Because we have covenanted with God to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. Shakespeare’s words are thoroughly trumped by those of King Benjamin (in Mosiah 5:7-9; my own emphasis added):
7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made, ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
9 And it shall come to pass that whosoever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ.
Sometimes we struggle with words, especially if they seem to involve too many syllables and feel awkward because of their length. Since home and visiting teaching were replaced by ministering, I have heard many members struggle with knowing how to refer to themselves and others. Some people still refer to others as home teachers or visiting teachers because they find it too difficult or strange to call them ministering brothers or ministering sisters. Some people struggle with how to introduce themselves to others. Whereas it felt natural to say, “Hi, I’m your visiting teacher,” it now feels awkward to some to say, “Hi, I’m your ministering sister.” Some drop the “brother” or “sister” and refer to themselves or others simply as “ministers,” but we’ve been asked not to do that. The best way to overcome that challenge may be to practice! Use “ministering brother” or “ministering sister” in a sentence a dozen times and by the time you’re done, you’ll begin to feel comfortable. Avoid saying them and the discomfort will be prolonged!
Regarding the name of the Church, it behooves us to follow the Prophet and to work to overcome our old ways and get it right. President Nelson took exception to the idea that clarifying the proper name of the Church is “inconsequential.” He said this is “not a name change. It is not rebranding. It is not cosmetic. It is not a whim. And it is not inconsequential. Instead, it is a correction.” And, he said, “It is the command of the Lord.” “For thus shall the church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” He went on to say, “the name of the Church is not negotiable.”
In light of President Nelson’s very clear teachings and my own personal experiences, characterizing the name of the Church as “consequential” and “non-negotiable” makes total sense.
My full-time mission experience is like my teenage experience. In Germany, there were two well-established religions: Catholicism and Lutheranism. There were also two other religions that were well-known in some ways: the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. What did people know about Mormons? Very little. They knew we wore suits, rode bikes, and knocked on doors in pairs. They knew we were American. Many of them “knew” we were polygamists and quite a few “knew” that we rode in horse buggies and wouldn’t use electricity. They could not know that the Book of Mormon teaches of Jesus Christ because they hadn’t read it. And one reason they hadn’t read it is because none of them wanted to live in polygamy, ride in horse-drawn buggies, and go without electricity! The incorrect name of the Church was a stumbling block to its own growth. It still is. President Nelson said, “the Lord’s Church is presently disguised as the ‘Mormon Church.’” Surely, he is not exaggerating or making a mountain of a mole hill.
It seemed especially noteworthy in General Conference that President Nelson approaches this topic in a repentance-like fashion. He said, “I realize with profound regret that we have unwittingly acquiesced in the Lord’s restored Church being called by other names, each of which expunges the sacred name of Jesus Christ!” Unquote. Repentance is an important course correction born from a change of heart and a change of mind. That is what’s happening here.
One of the questions facing you and me is whether we will also repent. “When we omit His name from His Church,” President Nelson said, “we are inadvertently removing Him as the central focus of our lives.” We are also failing to communicate to others that He is the central focus of our lives. I think again of those two groups in my high school. The non-religious kids knew there was a “Praise the Lord” group and they all knew who was meant by “the Lord.” And there was the small “Mormon” group—but few, if any, had any clue at all that the central figure in our lives was Jesus Christ. Similar in Germany. At least some had an idea who the Jehovah’s Witness were referring to when they referenced Jehovah. But the term Mormon completely obscures the role of the Savior and literally removes the Savior from critical aspects of our missionary efforts.
So, if it feels awkward to say, “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” instead of, “I’m a Mormon,” then let’s commit to it and get over the awkwardness through lots practice.
When young men and young women in our stake return from serving full-time missions, I try to convince them that they are not done being missionaries. We all became missionaries when we took the name of the Savior upon us at baptism—and we strengthened that commitment through the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood. One extremely simple way we can stand as a witness is to make clear exactly who we are standing as a witness of by referring to Him in the name of our Church—His Church.
Let me add my testimony and then close with President Nelson’s promise.
As I told those two school teachers and have told many others since then, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. It is by his grace alone that I (or any of us) could be blind and then see. It is by the perfection of his love, kindness, devotion, mercy, and compassion that the wounds of my sins can be healed. It is by His grace that “a wretch like me” can be made clean through His blood that I might be able to return to the presence of Heavenly Father.
In response to the Savior’s question, “Will ye also go away,” Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” The truth is, there are many to whom we can go—many to whom people do go. Idols and false prophets abound in many worldly doctrines and sometimes even in popular personalities. These days, people are easily caught up in the trendy “philosophies of men” that villainize any attempt to even question them. But I join Peter with all of my heart in spite of my many failings in recognizing that there is only one to whom we can go who will, one day, by His grace, make us whole and help us be all that we ever could be.
I testify that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Now I don’t think we need any more reason to get on board with what President Nelson is asking regarding the name of the Church, but he added this to his remarks:
My dear brothers and sisters, I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints, the likes of which we have never seen. We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
So [he continued, perhaps quoting Shakespeare], what’s in a name? When it comes to the name of the Lord’s Church, the answer is “Everything!” Jesus Christ directed us to call the Church by His name because it is His Church, filled with His power.
May we follow the Prophet—who is following the Savior—and helping us do the same if we are willing. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]
Recently—and frequently—we have been encouraged to study the Book of Mormon and to increase our focus on it. President Monson spoke of it in his last talk. Elder Carl B. Cook spoke of it in our Area Conference last month. Brother Callister, the Sunday School General President, spoke of it in General Conference and also when he was here visiting our stake last month.
As recorded in the Introduction to the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith taught that a person “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” Considering that Jesus Christ, himself, said that “life eternal is to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom though hast sent,” we who believe in the Book of Mormon should be particularly eager to abide by its precepts that we might know God and enjoy a more abundant life.
What is a “precept”? And what are these precepts in the Book of Mormon by which, if we abide, we may come nearer to God?
For simplicity’s sake, I will define a “precept” as an instruction, a guideline on how to live. To try to list and explain all the important precepts in the Book of Mormon is a task too large for a brief talk. I would like, though, to mention five specific precepts, or instructions, that the Book of Mormon invites us to follow and to which I add my testimony to the Prophet’s: If you and I abide by them, we will come closer to both our Father in Heaven and to the Savior.
Precept #1: Use your agency to act, rather than to be acted upon.
Agency allows each of us to be self-determining. None of us can entirely control our circumstances, but each of us can control our handling of them and who we will become.
It seems clear from the plan of salvation that agency and the privilege of self-determination are of supreme importance. A war was fought in heaven over agency and a third of our Father in Heaven’s children lost their inheritance because they fought against it. The atonement, itself, happened in the defense of our right to choose, God knowing the inevitability of our choosing incorrectly at moments along our way. Agency is so important, God does not even intervene when his children do horrible things to others of his children.
To not use our agency means to be acted upon, to be blown about and kicked around by the world. To accept a victim mentality which takes us away from faith and striving. A favorite saying of mine says, “Indecision becomes decision with the passing of time.” Where we don’t take charge of ourselves, someone or something else eventually will.
Young men and young women: Who do you want to become? Who will you become? What are you doing right now to ensure you become the type of son or daughter of God who can receive all the blessings that He wants you to enjoy?
For disciples of Christ, the call to act is also a call to lead—a call to lead all others around us to the Savior. It is a call to be self-reliant and self-determining in our spirituality, in our marriages and other relationships, in our finances, in our beliefs and philosophies.
We will come nearer to God by acting and by being less acted upon.
Precept #2: Exercise faith. Exercise it in patience, but exercise it.
To exercise faith means to act upon truth in the absence of perfect knowledge. The most important faith to exercise is faith in the Savior Jesus Christ. We do this by acting upon His teachings and striving to follow His example.
The Book of Mormon very clearly teaches that “faith” and “a perfect knowledge” are mutually exclusive things. The absence of a perfect knowledge means room for some level of uncertainty. What the Book of Mormon invites us to do is to experiment—not merely by thinking or philosophizing, but by acting—that our knowledge may increase and our uncertainty decrease.
Exercising faith requires patience. We know so well the verse in which Nephi says he will “go and do,” knowing that the Lord would provide a way for him. It is fascinating to think of how Nephi’s faith was immediately met by two utter failures to obtain the plates. His exemplary faith was not just found in that bold statement that he would “go and do.” It was found in his patience in waiting on the Lord to reveal a path for him even while his going and doing wasn’t working.
You or I may get frustrated from time to time over the things we do not yet know or over the outcomes we wish for that have not yet happened. Let us exercise faith in patience and allow the Lord to reveal His hand according to His timing and His will.
We will come nearer to God by patiently and persistently exercising faith in Him.
Precept #3: Recognize evil.
Though it may sound unusual, I have a testimony that evil exists and that Satan exists.
The Book of Mormon not only teaches clearly the idea of “opposition in all things,” it teaches that anti-Christ is real, is among us, and is actively ridiculing faith, exploiting uncertainty, mocking the very idea of God, and teaching us that there is no right nor wrong, that whatever is desired by a person is, by definition, OK.
Evil attempts to turn uncertainty into proof against. It attempts to turn tolerance for and acceptance of people into tolerance for and acceptance of wrong. Evil doesn’t always teach that wickedness can become happiness, it often just teaches that there is no such thing as wickedness. Evil mocks legitimate prophets and promotes false philosophies as false prophets and false religions.
Satan is the Father of Lies, the Great Deceiver. He uses subtlety because subtlety works. We know he is there. All the more reason for us to hold very fast to the iron rod of the scriptures and to sit up and pay careful attention when living prophets speak.
We will come nearer to God by acknowledging and avoiding evil.
Precept #4: Share our abundance with the poor.
In the gospels of the New Testament, the Savior warned over and over again of the risks and dangers associated with having wealth. In the Doctrine and Covenants he specified that many are not “chosen” because “their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world.” And in the Book of Mormon, he teaches us with great repetition to support the poor. Satan is good at making us believe that we are not wealthy because we can see others who have more than we do.
But Alma asked, “will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?” Mormon condemned—and note this: he was condemning us in the latter days, not his own people— “ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted.”
A year ago, in Stake Conference, I spoke of our responsibility to help the poor. In doing so, I emphasized the fact that we in our stake are rich and that we, in particular, should heed the Savior’s warnings to the rich. I have, since then, sometimes heard that talk referred to as the “we are rich” talk. I would rather it were referred to as the “we should do more for the poor” talk. For our children’s sake, let us break from the past and teach our children from a young age to give Fast Offerings.
We will come nearer to God by increasing our support for the poor.
Precept #5: Finally, and most importantly, recognize the Savior as the only legitimate way to eternal life.
King Benjamin taught, “there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”
Jesus Christ is the only way and the only means through which we may receive the blessing of living with our Heavenly Parents, of living like them, of living in eternal and loving family relationships.
Let us recognize that the path is, in fact, strait and narrow. Yet it is also clear before us. And, for the most part, we are on it. Let us rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” Let us “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” and by Him.
We will come nearer to our Heavenly Father and to the Savior by consciously striving to receive and follow the Savior.
Let us renew our commitment to the Book of Mormon. Let us value and follow its precepts and thereby come nearer to God. Of the value of these precepts I bear my witness with love and gratitude for the Savior and for our Heavenly Father and expressing my love for each of you. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
[Given by Chris Juchau at the Priesthood Leadership session of Stake Conference, April 2017.]
Good morning, Brethren. It is Easter Sunday. I would just like to share a few words with you about the Savior before we break into groups.
A week ago yesterday I had the privilege of touring the Vatican. We were in a small group of about twelve, mostly Americans, being led through by our Catholic Italian guide, Laura, who was knowledgeable and passionate. It felt like there were a half-million people there as we squeezed through dense crowds to see, among other things, the Sistine Chapel, the works of Raphael, Michelangelo’s Pieta, and four sainted Popes whose caskets lie inside and not just underneath St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was both a fascinating and, at moments, a claustrophobic tour. For me, there were two particularly moving moments.
The second of the two came after we’d been through the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and were inside St. Peter’s Basilica. As you know, old European Cathedrals are basically laid out in the shape of a cross with the highest point in the ceiling typically formed by a large dome at the intersection of the cross. In St. Peter’s, this point is tall enough to accommodate the Statue of Liberty underneath it.
As we approached this point at the end of our 3.5-hour tour and I was walking alongside Laura, she said, “And now we enter the very heart of Christianity.” I was immediately and deeply struck by the incorrectness of her words.
The heart of Christianity is not a physical location. Yes, there are sacred places. But I have been to the Garden Tomb and to Bethlehem and the Sacred Grove—and the heart of Christianity is not there, either.
The heart of Christianity lies within my heart and your heart. For me, it is in that portion of my heart and soul that loves God our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ whom He sent. I strive for that portion to be more than a portion—to be my entire heart and my entire soul—and to love them with all my heart, might, mind, and strength.
The heart of Christianity lies also in His heart and in the love that He has for you and for me. His love is perfect. It is perfectly kind, generous, patient, good, forgiving, just, and merciful. His love withstood unfathomable pain and suffering that you and I might receive forgiveness and sanctification.
The heart of Christianity will be found wherever I am—and for you, wherever you are—provided that we remember the Savior and are striving to be one with Him. He said:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
My other moment came earlier in the tour when Laura was explaining the Pope’s Coat of Arms and showed a painting of Peter receiving two keys from the Savior—one gold and one silver. I was, in that moment, filled with gratitude for the reality of priesthood keys and for their restoration to the earth today. Those keys are found in the restored Church. Many in this room right now hold priesthood keys or have in the past. President Smith here holds keys for ordinances in the Mount Timpanogos temple through which eternal families may be formed. President Killpack, represented here today by President Lindley, holds keys to bless the lives of non-members in our stake.
Just a week prior to our visit to the Vatican, fifteen men stood in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City and spoke to us one by one. Each of them holds all of the keys once held by Peter and others. Those keys are with us and they are exercised on our behalf.
As priesthood leaders in the Highland Utah South Stake, all that we do should be for the purpose of helping individuals and families come to the Savior. All that we do should be done under the direction of legally authorized representatives of God who hold his authority and the right to exercise it.
On this Easter morning, I wish to testify of the Savior and express my gratitude for Him and for His restored Church. My testimony involves faith and agency. It has not yet been replaced by what Alma calls a perfect knowledge. But that does not mean it isn’t very well grounded and doesn’t rest on a strong, solid foundation.
I have felt the Spirit many times in my life. Occasionally in very large ways. Frequently in smaller ways. I have experienced a joyful connection with the Savior through repentance and forgiveness. I have tried (not completely successfully, but I have tried and do try) to live the gospel. I have many weaknesses. I know that bad things happen to good people. I also know that in all circumstances, there is a sweet and reassuring peace that accompanies me when I strive to live the gospel—and an emptiness and darkness when I don’t.
I often think of myself like the man in the ninth chapter of John, who was blind from his birth and who, after having been granted the gift of sight from the Savior—and then grilled repeatedly by the Savior’s opponents as to how he came to see—said, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Like all of you, I hope, I am growing and maturing in my faith and testimony and in my familiarity with the Spirit. Day to day personal growth seems quite imperceptible, but over time it can be significant in each of us. Like the blind man, I don’t know everything, but increasingly I know that I am seeing more and that I am seeing more clearly because of the Savior.
Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. He is, very personally to me, my Savior. He is, I hope personally to you, your Savior. He rose on the third day. The empty tomb said everything we claim it said. He stands at the head of this Church and it is His authority we bear. None of us here bears all of His authority, but we bear the portion that has been delegated to us. If we bear it well, we will bless many lives, including our own.
May you and I come ever closer to knowing Him, to feeling his love, and to developing His attributes. May we find healing in Him and may we help our family and others for whom we have stewardship find that healing—and ultimately that peace that passeth all understanding.
I testify that Jesus Christ is the Living Christ—and the son of the living God—in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.