[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.