Tag Archives: repentance

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.

Second, faith.

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.

Third, testimony.

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…

Fourth, questions.

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.

Fifth, repentance.

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.”

He added:

“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.

Ninth, consecration.

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.

Twelfth, manhood.

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.

Testimony

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.

Joy and Repentance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is repentance and what is joyful about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now one more point before I close…

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

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

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

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

On Optimism and Repentance

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Priesthood Meeting March 1, 2015.]

I wonder how many of you are aware of the major world event that occurred in Peoria, Arizona this past week?

The other day, I was sitting in my boss’s office at work listening to him complain about a couple of employees and about the unlikelihood of them changing their negative behaviors.  As I listened in some disagreement, my mind wandered a bit and I had a significant epiphany when it dawned on me that I had become an optimist.

My arrival at optimism has developed through conflicting aspects of my upbringing.  On the one hand, my father, who, thankfully, has had a great influence on the way I think about and approach things, has always had as one of his cornerstone philosophies and favorite sayings, that a pessimist is never disappointed.  He tempers that mantra a bit with another saying he always refers to as “the Hindu philosophy”:  hope for the best, expect the worst.  I have spent much of my life anticipating negative outcomes as an effective means of avoiding disappointment and frustration.

On the other hand, five days ago in Peoria, Arizona, the Seattle Mariners reported for Spring Training.  To most people, that doesn’t mean very much, but to me, Spring Training is, ironically for a Mariners fan, a significant annual symbol of hope, optimism, and renewal.

April 6, we know, is an important date in world history.  Among other important things, it was on April 6, 1977 that the Seattle Mariners played their first real game.  I was 11 years old.  They committed two errors, scored zero runs, and lost 7-0.  To call that foreshadowing would be an understatement.  I was a father before they had their first winning season 14 years later.  In 38 seasons, they have won their division exactly three times and been to the playoffs just four times.  In 2001, they tied the all-time record for wins in a season—but managed to salvage disappointment from the jaws of success when they lost the American League Championship Series to that symbol of everything unvirtuous, unpraiseworthy, unlovely, and of ill report, the New York Yankees.  They have never been to a World Series.  Yet.

Every February, my hope, optimism, and enthusiasm emerge refreshed from the cold of winter and blossom like a bunch of daffodils. It is ironic, that I have learned so much about hope and optimism from my beloved not-quite-but-nearly-literally hopeless Mariners these past 38 years.

Over those years, though, I have learned much more about faith, hope, optimism, and renewal from an infinitely more important source and in a more meaningful way:  the Savior.  Jesus Christ is, as the scriptures say, love.  He is also hope and optimism.  Pessimistic, dark views about yourself or about life’s possibilities for you come from the other side.  There is, in fact, a devil, just as there is a Savior.  The Devil, not the Savior, is the author of personal pessimism.

If, when you consider yourself and your prospects in this life and eternity, your heart contains hope and optimism in spite of whatever disappointments you may find in life’s circumstances or in your own abilities or character, there is a good chance that you are seeing both yourself and the Savior the right way.  If, when you consider yourself and your prospects in this life and eternity, your heart contains things like discouragement or despair or hopelessness, there is a good chance that you have either lost sight of who you really are or of the Savior’s ability and willingness to help you over life’s small—and sometimes very large—bumps.

Four positive facts are true.  The more deeply you internalize them, the more optimistic you’ll feel:

  1. No matter where you have been or what you have done, you matter and have undiminished potential—which is equal to that of every good man.
  2. It is true that, like all of us, you have fallen short in ways which if unresolved will continue to separate you from God, which separation is disassociated with happiness.
  3. The Savior can and is eager to help you resolve any and all currently unresolved matters that separate you from God and that may leave you with feelings of pessimism or discouragement.
  4. Effort from you is required, but you are fully capable of all that is your part to do. Your part is doable and not just by a superhuman, but by you.

I would like to speak to you tonight about repentance and about its importance and the associated blessings.  Repentance and optimism enjoy a close relationship.

Everyone in this room stands in need of repentance.  Some for critical, acute matters because they have committed a particularly egregious sin or because they lack control over their behavior and habitually commit significant sins.  The rest of us need to repent for arguably less acute matters, but nevertheless also need repentance born of deep, sincere humility and of broken hearts.  Note that broken hearts need not be depressed, despondent hearts.  The humility, godly sorrow, and broken hearts the Savior implores us to develop are about making our hearts fertile and receptive to Him; they are not about making us feel small or hopeless.

Two evenings ago, I sat in a meeting with Church, school, and other community leaders and I was reminded of something I have repeatedly learned in recent years, which is this:   Negative situations, whether they involve personal anguish unrelated to sin or whether they do involve sin, are made worse by the darkness of secrecy.  Conversely, those situations are improved by the light of openness.  This is why one of the most wonderful—even majestic—things I have seen is a man who stands up in front of a lot of other men at a 12-Step meeting and says, “Hi, my name is John, and I have a problem.”  You can bet that John is on his way to better things and to goodness and peace.

When we commit sin, our natural, carnal response is to follow some of Satan’s very first advice when he told Adam and Eve to hide themselves.  Why would we do so?  Feelings of shame and embarrassment motivate us toward the darkness of secrecy.  This is what Satan wants us to do and it is how he will help us become miserable like unto himself.

Nothing could be more opposite from the Savior’s counsel to us to mourn with each other, to comfort each other, and above all, to go to Him.  “Come and see,” He commanded.

When we have sinned and we “go to Him, “what will we, in fact, “see”?

One of the sweetest experiences of my life occurred when, as a young, but adult, man, I wrestled with feelings of unworthiness because of things I had done.  I pondered and prayed and worked to change.  One day, I was blessed with a clear, wonderful understanding that I had been forgiven.  It was joyful and I have derived confidence from that moment ever since.

It is a common experience for members of the Church who feel shame and embarrassment to muster the courage to go to their bishop to confess things that need to be confessed and to ask for His help—and then to discover that their confession is met with warmth and love, a smile, and encouragement.  Which is not to say that there aren’t additional steps for people to take before complete repentance is achieved, but it is to say that the Savior meets our courage with love and that bishops are blessed with a similar, compassionate response to those who seek Him.  Some who need to see their bishops have not been able to bring themselves to do so.  If that is you, you should do it soon because you are missing out on a great experience and on the blessings that come from bringing our hidden weaknesses into the light.

There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where things are looking very dark for the three men in the spaceship—and, in fact, for the entire space program.  Gene Kranz, the director of flight operations for Mission Control in Houston is overhearing a government official rehearse all the things that might yet go wrong and openly lament the problems that will result if the Apollo 13 mission ends in catastrophe.  The official says, “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”   But then Kranz turns to the official and says, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

Like the problems of Apollo 13, which occurred when the oxygen tanks were stirred and an explosion resulted, we are never better off having sinned.  All sin comes with negative consequences.  For the Apollo 13 mission, disappointment remains to this day because they did not reach the moon.  Nevertheless, it is true, that when things do go wrong, an opportunity emerges for us to discover the love of the Savior and to draw humble strength from the confidence and optimism He expresses in us when he provides forgiveness.

I have sat with people in the bishop’s office or stake president’s office who are burdened by discouragement and disappointment, often related to sin, and wanted to help the person see that this may yet be one of their finest hours.

I am impressed by the idea that repentance involves change—a change of heart, a change of mind, and a change of behavior.  Such change is almost always associated with time because it takes time to distinguish, even within our own selves, between plants that take root and quickly spring up only to equally quickly wither because the roots had no real depth and plants whose roots grow deep into the ground and have the ability to endure.

This, by the way, is why it is hard to repent of just one sin at a time.  I may be able to stop or change one behavior at a time, but if my heart and my mind are truly changed toward God, I will desire to eliminate all the behaviors that keep me from him.

A broken heart and a contrite spirit are the key.  Lehi said of the Savior, “behold he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”

Brethren, here is what I want you to know…

  1. No matter where you have been or what you have done, you matter and have undiminished potential—which is equal to that of every good man.
  2. It is true that, like all of us, you have fallen short in ways which if unresolved will continue to separate you from God, which separation is disassociated with happiness.
  3. The Savior can and is eager to help you resolve any and all currently unresolved matters that separate you from God and that may leave you with feelings of pessimism or discouragement.
  4. Effort from you is required, but you are fully capable of all that is your part to do. Your part is doable and not just by a superhuman, but by you.

I want you to know that there is great cause for hope and faith and optimism.  This is because the Savior has done what we need Him to do in order to be able to save us from despair and hopelessness and pessimism.  And it is because the abilities lie within you to come to Him in a way that allows Him to heal you.

I ask the Lord to bless each of us with courage.  Courage to take sin out of the darkness and courage to trust in His ability to heal us.  He can and He will if we will sufficiently soften our hearts toward Him.

The Mariners may never win a World Series.  But that (and a whole host of other things you and I can get distracted with) doesn’t matter at all.  What matters is that you experience the goodness, hope, and happiness of renewal through Jesus Christ.  I testify that you can and you will if you open your heart to Him.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

“By this ye may know…”

Let’s start with a multiple-choice quiz question.  “How many R’s are there in repentance?”  I’ll give you six options to choose from:

  1. Five:  recognize, remorse, relate, resolve, and restore.
  2. Myriad dozens.  To the five above, we could add: realize, regret, recite, report, renounce, restitution, repair, repay, recommit, restart, rely, reform, receive, reconcile, renewal, and on and on and ON…  (If you don’t believe me, just try Google.  There are at least a bazillion R’s.)
  3. One.  There is literally one “R” in the word repentance.  Ha ha
  4. Zero.  There are no R’s in “change.”
  5. One.  There is one “R” in “Christ.”
  6. Four.  There are four R’s in “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

I’m really not a fan of the traditional lists of R’s associated with repentance.  They certainly have value in helping us identify and discuss important concepts and some of those concepts are extremely important.  But they’re often presented as “steps” in the repentance “process,” but the idea of “steps” invites thinking of repentance as a checklist, which seems like a mistake; and the idea of a process, while not incorrect reminds me of a flowchart and moving from one stage to another… which brings us right back to steps and checklists.  No good.

I do like simplicity, though.  Here are a few simple repentance-related concepts we discussed this last Thursday which seem important.

Christ.  Just as Christ must be at the center of our faith if we want our faith to do anything for us salvation-wise, so much Christ be at the center of our repentance.  For those who insist on lists of R’s, they key is to relate every R to the Savior.  Checklist repentance often omits the most important things:  the Savior, his atonement, our relationship to him, godly sorrow that relates to him…  If he isn’t at the center of our repentance, our repentance will not work salvation.

Change.  If we reduce the definition of repentance to a single word (I like to think that “faith” = “action,” for example), my choice would be “change.”  We repent because we sin.  Sin moves us away from God.  To remedy that, we must change.  Three things must change:  our hearts (to replace pride with humility and rebellion with submission), our minds (to eliminate the erroneous thinking and rationalization that led us to accept sin as a desirable path), and our behavior (sins of commission must be stopped, sins of omission but be replaced with action; even sins involving thinking require behavioral changes).

Confession.  No, I’m not trying to replace the R-words with C-words, but I would like to say three things about confession.  First, we need to regularly discuss our sins and shortcoming with Heavenly Father in prayer; we need to ask for forgiveness frequently.  Second, when confession to a priesthood key holder is necessary, it is almost always a source of profound and immediate relief—if taken!  (Bishops, by the way, are far more inclined to respect and appreciate, rather than be critical of or disappointed in, those who confess sins.)  The alternative of shouldering our burden alone is a tragic one—completely unnecessary.  Third, confession is best when it is complete.  Sort of kind of confessing or mostly confessing is a lost opportunity which lengthens the bearing of the burden and retards healing.

Receiving.  This is an R-word I really love.  I am often reminded of D&C 88:33:  “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”  Faith and repentance work together and faith, by definition, includes confidence.  Faith in Christ, includes confidence in Christ.  When I combine faith and repentance, I know that sincere efforts to change and correct my ways are received by our Father in Heaven; and I know that because my efforts alone are insufficient, the Savior does indeed make up the difference.  I may receive the gift of forgiveness with humble confidence—and humility and confidence in the Savior may very harmoniously coexist.

I mentioned in class on Thursday that I had 13 repentance-related questions to pose for consideration and discussion.  Having already commented on some of them above, I present them here as 10 questions.  I won’t necessarily claim to know the answers, but if you have ideas, please drop a comment below!

  1. Which sins must I specifically repent of?  Just the big ones?  Are some (“smaller”) sins repented of in some kind of batch or general fashion?  Do I need to repent for just being human and carnal by nature of my fallen state?
  2. Is it possible to just repent of one sin at a time?  I can’t truly repent of one sin while holding on to another, can I?  Is repentance an experience that involves all our sins?
  3. Sincere repentance includes godly sorrow and some level of pain, does it not?  If so, how much work is the Savior doing and how much of it am I doing?
  4. Should active, worthy members of the Church who are careful covenant keepers also be engaged in daily, active, conscious repentance?  If so, how?
  5. Is repenting of the same thing over and over again really repentance?  The Savior commands us to forgive all people, even when they seek forgiveness for the same thing repeatedly.  He also said, “As often as my people repent, I will forgive them  (Mosiah 26:30).”  How does the Lord feel about repeated attempts interrupted by repeated failures?  How do we feel about those things we see in loved ones?
  6. Was the woman taken in adultery repentant?  If so, she was definitely forgiven, right?  Was she forgiven?
  7. Was the prodigal son repentant?  If so, he was definitely forgiven, right?  Was he forgiven?
  8. How do you convince someone who thinks they’re too far gone for the blessings of the atonement that they are wrong?
  9. Is it really true that an omniscient God literally forgets our sins when we repent or is that just a figurative expression to indicate that there will be no negative consequences from Him?
  10. When we repent, what is the actual mechanism that converts our repentance into God’s forgiveness?  Is it a decision He makes according to His agency—His grace?  Or is it automatic because He is bound?

I know of few things that bring joy and build testimony like repentance.  Whether for sins relatively small or large, repentance is a sweet opportunity for each of us right now.  Repentance is, in fact, a necessary ingredient for living after the manner of happiness.

Lastly, appreciation to Rod Terry for reminding us Thursday that the Sacrament ordinance each Sunday combines with our faith and repentance and the workings of the Holy Ghost to renew our baptism and its effects each Sunday.  Sacrament meeting is sacred.  We can indeed walk out of it each week reconciled to God and qualified for salvation, even for exaltation.