Milk before Meat

Main Idea: It is not wise to reveal advanced concepts before someone has mastered the basics.  Much truth is highly contextual and cannot be understood until one has the context to receive that truth.  Giving meat before milk does more harm than good to those unable to digest it.  

The Apostle Paul taught us an important lesson in 1 Corinthians.  He said:

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I  have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (1 Cor 3: 1-2)

Paul told the Corinthians that he could not speak to them of advanced spiritual truths because they were spiritual babies.  He compared his teachings to “milk” which is the first type of nourishment that a human infant receives.  He said that he did not give these saints “meat” or more advanced concepts as they hadn’t matured enough to be able to digest it.

If you give a baby meat when he is not able to digest it he dies.  In the same way, revealing advanced truths to those who can’t digest them can also lead to spiritual death.  This truth is sometimes forgotten by those who have tasted meat and wish to share that meat with those who have not matured enough to digest it.  Unfortunately, this often leads to more harm than good.

This principle is reiterated throughout scripture.  The prophet Alma said that God reveals His mysteries to many but puts them under a strict command not to impart those mysteries to those who have not put in the necessary work to understand them.   Alma says:

“And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” (Alma 12: 9)

Similarly, part of the reason Jesus taught in parables was to hide certain truths from those who could not bear them.  Jesus said:

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.  Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13: 12-13)

God has also told most dispensations to teach nothing but the most basic gospel principles to the world.  This means that we should only teach repentance and faith in God and not touch on anything else before these principles are understood and followed.

“Say nothing but repentance unto this generation; keep my commandments, and assist to bring forth my work, according to my commandments, and you shall be blessed.” (D&C 6:9)

“Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.” (Mosiah 18: 20)

God has even gone so far as to remove truths from a group of people who refuse to accept them.  The prophet Jacob explained that God removed many truths from His ancient covenant people because they despised those truths:

“But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.” (Jacob 4:14)

 Similarly, He removed the Melchizedek Priesthood (Meat) from the ancient Jews during the time of Moses and gave them the law of Moses (Milk)  in its place

“Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory.

Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel.” (D&C 84: 23-26)

We must therefore be wise not to cast our pearls of wisdom before metaphorical swine who cannot recognise the great worth of these pearls but will instead destroy them:

Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matthew 7:6)

Revealing advanced gospel truths is akin to teaching algebra to someone who has not yet learned arithmetic.  The language and symbols are unintelligible and would seem strange or even “weird” to those who do not have the context to understand them.

That’s why the Lord tells us to teach line upon line and precept upon precept not revealing advanced truths before one has the foundation to receive them:

“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.” (Isaiah 28:10)

Another reason we don’t reveal advanced truths to those who can’t understand them is that they would appear “strange” and be off-putting to those who lack the experience to understand them.

The scriptures repeatedly say that God’s covenant people are “peculiar” or strange to those outside of the faith.

“For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” (Deut 14:2) 

” But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) 

This makes sense because those outside the faith lack the life experience to accept certain truths.  This is why if you know nothing about God’s covenant people except some of the more “advanced” practices that they engage in they can seem strange and can be easily misunderstood.

For example, if all you know about LDS people is that they don’t drink tea and coffee then this seems like a strange practice.  However, this behavior exists within a complex set of life experiences and assumptions about the world.

The Picture below demonstrates the “line upon line” nature of being able to understand and receive the principle on abstaining from tea and coffee.

Download Image for Better View

 

Step 1: There is a God. (Revealed by the Holy Spirit through study & faith)
Step 2: I am a Child of God. (Revealed by the Holy Spirit through study & faith)
Step 3: I must exercise Faith in God. (A choice to believe that is practised over time and evaluated)
Step 4: I am a sinner who must repent to be Saved. ( The “born again” experience of God’s transcendent grace)
Step 5: I know nothing next to God and He knows everything. (The deeply humbling experience)
Step 6: I must submit to Gods will to be saved even if I don’t understand it. (Experiencing the peace of submitting to God’s will)
Step 7: It is God’s will that I make covenants with Him. (Partaking in Sacred Ordinances and Experiencing a Covenant relationship with God.)
Step 8: One of the covenants I make with God asks me to abstain from coffee and tea. (Experiencing God’s grace, power and blessings through obedience)

However, most people see the conclusion (Step 8) without understanding all of the assumptions and experiences behind that conclusion and thus quickly reject it or believe it to be strange.  

As a general rule of thumb, before revealing advanced truths of the gospel ask yourself: “Does this person understand the doctrines of repentance and faith in God?”  If the answer is no then do not reveal anything else unless prompted to.

As a Stone Cut Out of the Mountain

From a Sacrament Talk

Prophecy of Daniel:

In the Book of Daniel, we read of a prophecy of the latter day kingdom.  It reads:  “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.”  (Daniel 2:44)

We live in a day in which the prophecy of Daniel is being fulfilled.  There are now more than 13 million members in 176 nations and territories.  The growth of the church can only be understood when we recognize that the hand of God has been active in bringing about this miraculous growth.  It began, over 170 years ago, in 1830 with only 6 members.  Today, we are the fourth largest church in North America.

Early Persecution and Growth of the Church:

It has not been an easy thing.  Satan has worked furiously to stop the growth of the church and the Saints have faced bitter persecution and overcome insurmountable odds in order to build the kingdom of God in preparation for the return of the Savior.

The Lord gave counsel to his Apostles before his crucifixion and said: These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

And yet throughout all of the struggles and persecutions endured by the Saints the Lord has ultimately been in control.  The early Saints in Missouri suffered all manner of persecutions: Mobs had driven them from their homes; they lost land, livestock, clothing, furniture, crops, and many other personal possessions. Threats of death were heard every day as hell raged forth, seeking to destroy the kingdom of God in its infancy.  The words of the Lord to the Saints in these troubled times were:

“Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands; be still and know that I am God.”  The Lord allowed the church to struggle, but reassured them that he was ultimately in control and would not suffer Satan to destroy his work.

Christ has overcome the world.  He has said to us in our day: “Gird up your loins and be prepared. Behold, the kingdom is yours, and the enemy shall not overcome” (D&C 38:9)

The Greatest Dispensation in History:

The day in which we live has been called the greatest dispensation of the Gospel ever given to mankind.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; they have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day; . . . we are the favored people that God has [chosen] to bring about the Latter-day glory.”

We have around 55,000 missionaries—way more than in any other age in the history of the world since time began. And that number is repeated every two years by those going out to replace their predecessors. Thousands of years ago there was one temple in the old world and only 2 or 3 temples in Book of Mormon history, but now we live in a time when temples are being constructed so rapidly that they cover the entire earth. We have 125 active temples with more, to be announced and put under construction.

Apostasy and Destruction has been the fate of every dispensation that has preceded ours.  The Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland wrote: “those great men and women, the leaders in those ages past, were able to keep going, to keep testifying, to keep trying to do their best, not because they knew that they would succeed but because they knew that you would. I believe they took courage and hope not so much from their own circumstances as from yours.

The Prophet Moroni records:

“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:34–35).

Our day was the day that the prophets have looked forward to in great anticipation, from the beginning of time.  Those great and noble souls that have preceded us are cheering us on towards victory! Ours is the day in which the kingdom of God will triumph and Satan and his legions will be defeated under the mighty hand of God.

What a humbling and yet awesome responsibility we have as citizens of the kingdom prior to the Kings return.  The millennium must be brought forth by us, not by a mandate from God.  Otherwise it would be totalitarian rule.  The Lord has held some of his most righteous and noble souls for the very purpose of preparing the way for his coming in glory and majesty.

We have a mission comparable to John the Baptists’ in which we must declare to the inhabitants of the earth: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

My dear brothers and sisters, look around you.  It is not by chance that we have been placed here together but it is according to the design of our great and eternal God.  Think of the billions of Fathers children that have come to this earth and then think of the odds that we would come to know one another.  We should treasure these relationships and dedicate ourselves more fully to uniting, for the Lord has truly commanded that “if ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

The trials of discipleship:

Having knowledge of our great responsibility and the inherent propensity for goodness that every one of us is capable of, we must seek to dedicate our lives more fully to the Lord.  It is going to require us to rise to heights of great courage and it will require much sacrifice and humility as we endure the struggles necessary for our salvation.

Neal A. Maxwell observed that “our hearts will be broken in order that they might be rebuilt. As Ezekiel said, one’s task is to “make you a new heart and a new spirit” (Ezekiel 18:31). There is no way that such dismantling, such erosion, such rebuilding can occur without real cost in pain, pride, adjustments, and even some dismay.

The Prophet Joseph wrote:

“The enemies of this people will never get weary of their persecution against the Church, until they are overcome. I expect they will array everything against me that is in their power to control, and that we shall have a long and tremendous warfare.

When all men speak evil of you falsely, blessed are ye. Shall a man be considered bad, when men speak evil of him? No. If a man stands and opposes the world of sin, he may expect to have all wicked and corrupt spirits arrayed against him. But it will be but a little season, and all these afflictions will be turned away from us, inasmuch as we are faithful, and are not overcome by these evils.

Brothers and Sisters, may I speak of my own experience?  That one’s heart must be broken, any man can testify of who has tried to put off the natural man and embrace the attributes of Christ.  It is painful.  It requires long and hard effort and an incredible amount of faith.  This work is not for faint of heart nor is it for the cowardly or the lazy. On many occasions I have been tempted to give up; to embrace mediocrity and avoid the great exertion and effort requisite for enduring the refiner’s fire.”

Which Side are you on?

The ultimate destiny of the kingdom has already been declared by the Lord Omnipotent.  The only question that remains is what side of the battle we will find ourselves on.

In the words of Hugh B. Brown:

“Every man has to wrestle with the devil.  You have to have a lot of courage if you come off victorious.  There is a constant war going on between God and the Devil.  And the war is over you and your soul.  The adversary would take you and destroy you, if God would permit it.  The adversary is doing everything in his power to get control of the minds and hearts and souls of men and he wants the young people because you are the future leaders of the church and of the world, and if he can defeat you he has won a great victory.

To whom else, would the Lord entrust carrying forth his standard into battle against the desperate final assault of Satan than his most valorous and courageous children?  I wish to impress upon your minds the dignity of every individual soul and the great responsibility with which God has entrusted each and every one of you.  Where billions have failed, few will succeed, but succeed we shall for it has been declared by the Almighty and He knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words.

Rise up O men of God; Put on thy beautiful Garments o Daughters of Jerusalem.   And awake, and arise from the dust; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled. “

The Kingdom is Victorious:

Alma, the High Priest, Declared:

“Yea, thus saith the Spirit: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, for the kingdom of heaven is soon at hand; yea, the Son of God cometh in his glory, in his might, majesty, power, and dominion. Yea, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, that the Spirit saith: Behold the glory of the King of all the earth; and also the King of heaven shall very soon shine forth among all the children of men.

And also the Spirit saith unto me, yea, crieth unto me with a mighty voice, saying: Go forth and say unto this people — Repent, for except ye repent ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of heaven.”

Labor Diligently on this day:

The prophet Mormon has warned us against ceasing to labor diligently for the Kingdom:

“And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.” (Moroni 9:6)

Being engaged or having served a mission do not exempt us from upholding the baptismal covenants we renew each week.  The command to bear one another’s burdens and love and uplift one another does not just apply to our fiancé or the people to whom we were called to serve in the mission field.  It applies to every soul.  Joseph Smith taught this doctrine when he said: “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.”  There are more people in the world, than our fiancés, that could benefit from our talents or be uplifted by our kindness.

President Eyring warns us of the danger of putting off our labors for another day:

“There is a danger in the word someday when what it means is “not this day.

Joshua was one: “Choose you this day whom ye will serve . . . ,” he said, “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Hard as things seem today, they will be better in the next day if you choose to serve the Lord this day with your whole heart.

We are amidst spiritual things now.  The thought “Someday I will” can be a thief of the opportunities of time and the blessings of eternity.

As Brigham Young taught “Every moment of [our lives] must be holiness to the Lord, . . . which is the only course by which [we] can preserve the Spirit of the Almighty to [ourselves].”

I reiterate my previous question and challenge you to ask yourself: The fate of the Kingdom is already decided, which side of the battle will you find yourself on?

My beloved brothers and sisters; I may not know many things, but there is one thing that I do know, and that is the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It has been my privilege to progressively come to know him and feel the redeeming power of his love.  It fills my soul with excitement to think of what I may become as I come to know him further and therefore emulate his divine characteristics.  I declare boldly that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, Our Savior and Redeemer of all mankind.   May we find ourselves worthy to take his name upon us and fulfill the great work with which he has entrusted us, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Recognizing and Receiving Revelation

From a Sacrament Talk Given in 2011 in Brantford

Good morning brothers and sisters.  I’ve been asked to base my talk on a conference address from Elder Jay E. Jensen called the Holy Ghost and Revelation.  I will also draw from the scriptures and words of other general authorities in order to expand upon the basic principles of how we receive and recognize revelation.

In order to understand revelation we must understand the vehicle through which it occurs, what the purposes of revelation are, what we can do to receive it and how we can better recognize it in our own lives.  My remarks will attempt to answer these questions.

We turn now to the first question.  Who exactly is the Holy Ghost?

In the Doctrine and Covenants we learn that the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead and that he knows all things (see D&C 35:19; 42:17).  As a member of the Godhead, his roles include teaching and testifying of the Father and Son, revealing the truth of all things and leading us to do good.  The Holy Ghost is therefore the vehicle through which the Father and Son reveal the truth of all things.

Given the remarkable power of this Holy being, we should be in awe at this immeasurable gift bestowed upon us at baptism.  When we receive the Holy Ghost, we are given the power to be guided by one who knows all things, and since He knows all things He testifies of the Father and Son.  With this gift also comes the power to know what is right in all situations.

Now that we have a better understanding of the being through which revelation occurs, it falls upon us to define revelation.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles defines revelation simply as “communication from God to His children on the earth.”  God can communicate with his children through many mediums, some of which include: the scriptures, modern prophets and apostles, priesthood leaders, other individuals in our lives and communication to our souls directly from the Holy Ghost.  

When we think of revelation, many of us think of the direct kind in which the Holy Ghost speaks directly to us and not through someone else, or the scriptures.  It is often the most desirable because it would appear to be the path of least resistance.  Who wants to search through dozens of books and thousands of pages of recorded revelation when the Holy Ghost can simply tell us everything?  Sometimes we wonder why God insists that we perform the laborious work of searching through thousands of pages of revelations if we are just going to forget what we read a couple of weeks down the road?

So if we’re just going to forget what we read, why bother searching the revelations in the scriptures?  Perhaps our answer lies in examining the definition of learning.  Learning is defined as a change in behavior due to experience.  Thus to learn is to change.  We are, literally speaking, different people every time we learn something.  For example, reading about our duty towards helping the poor in the scriptures may change our attitude towards the poor and thus our behavior.  Even though, many years down the road we may not remember why we are compassionate towards the poor, and forget the exact rationale, the behavioral effects of our earlier learning have remained, independent of our ability to recall the process that changed our behavior.  When the Holy Ghost teaches us and confirms a truth to us as we study, we are forever changed even if in the future we don’t remember what it was we learned, or how.

Daily studying of the scriptures and words of the modern prophets and apostles can therefore exert powerful behavioral changes and is a highly rewarding activity.  I have found this to be true in my own life.  The simple act of reading the scriptures on a given day influences my behavior in incredible ways. Although I may not be able to recall exactly what I read even by the end of the day, my behavior definitely improves for the better.  I am kinder, more patient, humble and generally happier.

Now the other type of revelation I want to discuss is the direct communication from the Holy Ghost to our Souls.  The Holy Ghost does of course speak directly to our souls when we read the scriptures or when we hear truths spoken by modern prophets.  However, sometimes the Holy Ghost reveals truths to us in moments of prayer, pondering or at any other random time.  The prophet Joseph Smith spoke of this when he said: “When you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon;”

The scriptures also record that God can give us simple yes or no answers through two methods.  In Doctrine and Covenants Section 9: 8-9 we learn that God will respond to some inquiries by causing our bosom to burn, indicating that our decision is correct.  However, if we have made a wrong decision and ask God to confirm it and we feel a stupor of thought, than we know that God is telling us that this is not the correct decision.

Another method of communication that God uses is to withhold answers from us.  Now this can be one of the most difficult answers to accept, but God does it for many reasons.  Elder Richard G. Scott explains: “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer?  You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust.  When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust…..God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision.”

Elder S. Michael Wilcox also offers some wise counsel that we should consider if we think that God is not answering our prayers through revelation.  He suggests that we should remember a principle that he calls “the fourth watch.”  Now, in order to understand this you must know that the Hebrew night was divided into four watches: the first from 6-9, the second from 9-12, the third from 12-3 and the fourth was 3-sunrise.

In Mark 6:47 we read the story of the Apostles being amidst a great storm.  They have rowed for about the length of 75 football fields and are exhausted and frightened that the Savior has not come to save them.  However, the scriptures record that in the fourth watch Christ came unto them.  Similarly, God appeared to Joseph Smith in the fourth watch, right before Satan destroyed him.  God sent Elijah to the Widow as she was preparing her last meal.

So according to Elder Wilcox, we worship a fourth watch God, one who comes to us when we are exhausted.  Of course, we are all first watch people and we often panic if God does not come to us immediately.  So if we still have not been able to recognize revelation from God on a specific matter, we should ask ourselves, am I in the fourth watch yet?

However, sometimes God does not come even in the fourth watch.  Elder Wilcox suggests that when God does not come it is because we are totally prepared and able to deal with the problem we are facing.  He reminds us of the story of the Brother of Jared who had to come up with a solution to cross the ocean and reach North America.  The Brother of Jared built barges that the scriptures say were quote: “tight like a dish,” which allowed them to be protected from the storms.  If we think the fourth watch has passed, we must remember that we are “tight like a dish” and that God has prepared us to deal with the storms in our own lives.

Direct revelations can also come in the form of dreams, visions or miraculous conversations with angels.  However, we should not think that these experiences are necessary nor are they indicative of one’s standing before God.  This last conference, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve gave an excellent talk on revelation.  He said that there were two types and used the analogy of the rising sun to symbolize receiving revelation slowly, line upon line and precept upon precept and contrasted that experience with suddenly turning on a light in a dark room, representing a miraculous conversion from dark to light.

Elder Bednar expressed concern that we often emphasize the miraculous forms of revelations while dismissing God’s most used method, that of inspiration.

He says: I have talked with many individuals who question the strength of their personal testimony and underestimate their spiritual capacity because they do not receive frequent, miraculous, or strong impressions….If you have had similar thoughts or doubts, please know that you are quite normal. Just keep pressing forward obediently and with faith in the Savior. As you do so, you “cannot go amiss” (D&C 80:3).

President Joseph F. Smith counseled: “Show me Latter-day Saints who have to feed upon miracles, signs and visions in order to keep them steadfast in the Church, and I will show you members … who are not in good standing before God, and who are walking in slippery paths. It is not by marvelous manifestations unto us that we shall be established in the truth, but it is by humility and faithful obedience to the commandments and laws of God”

To summarize so far, Revelation is defined simply as communication from God to His children.  This communication is delivered from God to His children, through the Holy Ghost.  Even though we may forget the exact content of these communications, they change our behavior.  The Holy Ghost confirms the truths we read from the scriptures or modern prophets and apostles and also can speak directly to our souls if we are sensitive enough to perceive it.  Gradual reception of revelations through consistent obedience and effort is the norm and needing miraculous visions to sustain one’s faith is an indication of a weakness that we must work towards overcoming.

Enhancing Sensitivity to the Spirit

The question that must be answered next is, “what can we do to enhance our sensitivity to the Holy Ghost?”

First, we can start with a sincere desire to know the truth of a principle.  Alma teaches us that we must “awake and arouse our faculties to conduct an experiment upon the words of God.” (Alma 32:27).  Our Lord Jesus Christ taught the same principle found in John 7: 17 “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”

If you want to know whether the Word of Wisdom is a revelation from God, it’s simple, you just perform an experiment.  Live the word of wisdom for a time and judge its fruits.  If you perform the experiment, you will find that the Holy Spirit will bear witness to you of the truth of the principle you are experimenting upon. This is largely how I have come to know the truth of many Gospel principles. I used my thoughts, emotions and behaviors on a given day as a baseline measure.  I then apply a gospel principle and start living it in my life and compare the results of the intervention to that of the baseline.  Without fail, I have found that my thoughts, emotions and behaviors have all improved after the intervention.  Unfortunately, sometimes my behavior reverts back towards the baseline and I fail to live a gospel principle.  When this occurs I lose the blessings that I had previously gained.  It is through this process that I have strengthened my belief in many gospel principles.

So, one principle of receiving revelation is to first act on a principle and then to pay attention to the fruits of living that principle.  Your trial of faith is simply to keep the commandment, and then afterwards the Holy Ghost reveals the truth of what you have just done to you.

Another principle for enhancing our sensitivity to the Spirit is found in D&C 121: 45 which reads: “and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”  To let virtue garnish your thoughts means to beautify your mind with moral excellence or conformity to God’s laws.  To have virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly can be a difficult task, as so many influences in the world glorify and promote vice.

It can be difficult for those struggling with temptations that take the form of intrusive thoughts, to follow this wise counsel.  Studies have revealed that when we try real hard to suppress specific thoughts, the ironic effect is that those thoughts are more likely to reappear in your mind.  For example, in one study researchers asked one group of individuals to not think about a white bear for a period of time.  What they found was that compared to a group told they could freely think about the white bear, the group told to suppress the thought actually thought more about the white bear.

The implications of these findings suggest that those struggling with intrusive thoughts should not obsessively focus on getting rid of those thoughts, but should actively engage themselves in another task.  Perform tasks that invite the spirit, such as reading scriptures or focusing on meeting the needs of a family member.

Vicki Matsumori recently gave a conference talk in which she suggested that we should create or visit environments that make it easier to feel the Spirit.  Some of these environments include the church, the temple and hopefully our own homes.

Along with visiting peaceful environments, we should cultivate a spirit of reverence. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Inspiration comes more easily in peaceful settings.”  “Irreverence suits the purposes of the adversary by obstructing the delicate channels of revelation in both mind and spirit,” and “Reverence invites revelation.”

In the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 88: 124) the Lord commands us to “cease to be unclean.”  Former Relief Society General President Barbara B. Smith suggests that this scripture refers to keeping our bodies, homes and neighborhoods clean that the spirit might more easily abide in our homes.  Why does the Spirit care whether our homes are clean or messy?

We turn again to modern science to back up this scriptural command. Researchers have found that our attention is directed towards certain qualities in the environment.  For example, Daniel Berlyne found what he called collative properties that is, characteristics of an environment that cause the person to pay attention. These properties include whether an environment is new, whether things are out of place, whether it is complex or not and how surprising it is. A messy environment involves things being out of place, often in new combinations every day in an unorganized, complex and surprising way.   Individual’s limited attentional resources are constantly being used, leaving fewer resources available to pay attention to the still small voice.

These characteristics of a messy environment can also cause us to be aroused and can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed, causing a person to feel out of control and more likely to be less patient towards family members in the same environment.

In contrast, a clean environment brings order and predictability which allow us to relax and free up our scarce attentional resources to pay attention to the still small voice.  Now, these may not be the exact reasons that God commands us to keep a clean environment, but research does confirm that there are benefits to doing so.

Apart from a clean environment, we also need a quiet environment, at times.  Sister Matsumori suggests that we set apart some quiet time in our lives where we can pray, ponder and listen to the Holy Ghost.  Such actions will invite the spirit of revelation, as competing voices are drowned out.

Another method that we can use to enhance our spiritual sensitivity is given to us from the Apostle Richard G. Scott.  In a recent conference address, Elder Scott counsels us that we should write down any spiritual promptings that we get.  While Elder Scott was in a lesson where he felt the teacher was simply trying to impress everyone and wasn’t really trying to teach, he listened to the spirit’s promptings.  He recorded those promptings and suggests that because he recorded them, he received more revelations.  The lesson here is that even if we find a particular speaker or lesson boring, we should be listening to the Spirit in order to receive revelations.  If we record those revelations It will invite further revelation.

Another way that we can receive revelation is to repent.  The prophet Mormon  explains: “And the remission of sins bringeth meekness, and lowliness of heart; and because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost” (Moro. 8:26).  So when we repent, we are showing our humility and recognizing our dependence upon God.  This puts us in a state of mind that allows us to be receptive to spiritual promptings.

After we have repented, we can also seek to enhance our spiritual sensitivity by simply asking through prayer. The Savior promised, “And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done” (D&C 50:29).

As a companion principle to repentance, we must also be obedient and keep the commandments of God. The Savior taught us that: “When we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:21). He promised, “But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom” (D&C 63:23).

To summarize this section, we can become more sensitive to the promptings of the spirit by having a sincere desire to know something followed by experimentation, by letting virtue garnish our thoughts, by keeping our environments clean, giving ourselves quiet time and cultivating a spirit of reverence.  We can also repent, be obedient to the commandments and ask through prayer.  If we do these things, we will be more able to recognize spiritual promptings and the hand of God in our lives.

How do we recognize revelation?

Now that we’ve talked about how we can increase the likelihood of our recognizing spiritual promptings, let’s talk about how these promptings can be recognized.

Elder Jay E. Jensen tells us of how he came to know that the church was true.  He says: “I did not hear an audible voice nor see a heavenly being. I knew in the same way you too may have come to know—which is “by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 121:26) and the spirit of revelation (see D&C 8:1–3) speaking peace to my mind (see D&C 6:23) and assurances to my heart (see Alma 58:11).”

Like Elder Jensen, I have not had miraculous visions, nor have I even heard an audible voice.  I know that the church is true because I have prayed about it and the Holy Ghost has confirmed to my soul the truth of the Gospel.  Further reinforcing the witness of the Holy Ghost, I have found that the only path to peace and happiness in this life is to keep the commandments of God.

At times, I have felt what I can only describe as a fire coursing through my body after I have prayed to know the truth of certain things. To feel the Holy Ghost is to have a transcendent experience that has no real analogy in the physical world.

The Apostle Paul taught: that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

When we try to communicate the experience of the Holy Ghost to another, we use words.  Words are simply the manipulation of sound waves, a form of physical energy.  We use this physical energy to attempt to illustrate spiritual experiences, an endeavor that Paul says is in vain.  The best we can do is communicate the process of how we received revelation and try to use analogies or point out correlates of the spiritual experience.  We use words such as “speaking peace to the heart” and “assurances to the mind.”

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the 12 tells of a story in which he was challenged by an individual to explain how he knew the Gospel of Jesus Christ was true: I will now read to you that story, Elder Packer says to the man:

  • “Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.”
  • “Of course I do,” was his reply.
  • “When did you taste salt last?”
  • “When I just had dinner here on the airplane.”
  • “You just think you know what salt tastes like,” I said.
  • He insisted, “I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.”
  • “If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?”
  • “Now you are getting silly,” was his reply. “Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience.”
  • “Then,” I said, “assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.”
  • After some thought, he said, “Well, I suppose you could say that it is not sweet and it is not sour.”
  • “You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.” After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not explain, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, “I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to tell you in words how this knowledge has come to me than you are able to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!” Boyd K. Packer

I do not mean to suggest that we should not use words to communicate our spiritual experiences.  For when we testify from the heart the Holy Ghost can testify to others of the truths we bear witness of.  2 Nephi 33:1 records: “For when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.”

How does this process work?  How can the Holy Ghost speak to those who do not have the gift of the Holy Ghost?  Marion G. Romney, formerly of the Quorom of the 12 taught: “I believe that, notwithstanding the fact the spirits of men, as an incident to mortality, are deprived of memory and cast out of the presence of God, there still persists in the spirit of every human soul a residuum from his pre-existent spiritual life which instinctively responds to the voice of the Spirit until and unless it is inhibited by the free agency of the individual.”

Modern research has found that our physical memory works in an analogous fashion.  For example, some types of memories such as explicit memories, or memories we can consciously recall, depend upon a brain region known as the hippocampus.  However, other brain areas are responsible for implicit memories, experiences that influence us without us consciously recognizing the influence.  Those with amnesia caused by hippocampal damage show deficits in explicit memory, or memories they can consciously recall, while having relatively intact implicit memories, or memories we can’t consciously recall.  Our spiritual amnesia appears to operate in a similar fashion.

To conclude, logic, reason and argument alone can never bring about a spiritual experience.  One must have a sincere desire to know the truth of the Gospel, exercise faith by following the process I’ve outlined in this talk, and the Holy Ghost will testify that God the Father lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and took upon himself all of our sins and that the church was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith and that the only way to receive salvation is through following the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel, namely faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost followed by enduring to the end. I testify that the Holy Ghost has borne witness to my soul that these things are true, and I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Strengthening the Family

From a Sacrament Talk given in August 2015

Introdution

Good morning brothers and sisters, today I have been asked to talk about the subject of “Family.”  This is an incredibly large topic that one could take in almost any direction, but I have felt inspired to talk about strengthening families.  I will begin by putting the family in its eternal context to help us see the importance and purpose of the family.  Afterwards, I will discuss specific ways to strengthen the family through examining healthy habits, roles and structure.  After that, I will talk about two very important principles as they relate to the family: Chastity and Unity.  My main message then is that the family can be strengthened through viewing it in an eternal perspective, having clear roles, knowing and performing duties consistently, keeping the law of chastity and striving for unity through cultivating a spirit of grace and forgiveness in the home.

1. Eternal Perspective of Families

So, why is the family so important?  To answer that question, we have to put the family in its proper eternal context, within the framework of the plan of salvation.  Elder D. Todd Christofferson in his latest conference address, spoke on this very topic.  He explained that before we lived on earth we existed as intelligences and then were given spirit bodies by God who became our father.  However, God wasn’t content with leaving us as spirits and wanted us to be able to become exactly like Him so he devised a plan for us to receive physical bodies. The Book of Abraham summarizes the purpose of this earthly creation. I Quote:

  • “And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these [spirits] may dwell; “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them; “And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; . . . and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.”

Keeping our second estate, As Abraham called it, involves mastering our physical bodies and learning to do all things that the Lord commands us.  Elder Christofferson further explains that in order for Gods plan to work 4 ingredients were necessary.  First, there had to be a creation whereupon we could live outside of the presence of God.  Second, there had to be a fall so that we could leave the bubble of God’s grace and influence and experience the other side of reality: darkness, pain and sin.

However, once we sinned we could no longer return to our heavenly state.  Nephi explains it this way:  1 Nephi 10: 21

 “Wherefore, if ye have sought to do wickedly in the days of your probation, then ye are found unclean before the judgment-seat of God; and no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever.”

If evil were permitted within heaven, it would by definition, no longer be heaven.  Thus, a Redeemer was needed to redeem us from the fall and make us clean again so that we could return to live with God if we chose to. John 3: 16 testifies of this Redeemer:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3: 16)

I add my own testimony to that of John’s and declare that Jesus Christ is that Redeemer and that He performed His mission perfectly and atoned for every sin that every one of us would commit.

After the creation, fall and redemption of mankind the final ingredient necessary for this plan was the setting for our physical birth and spiritual rebirth that would be necessary in this life.  Thus, after God had finished the creation He gave two very important commandments: The Book of Genesis Records:

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28)

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

Thus, 2 of the very first commandments that God revealed to Adam was to form a family.  He commanded that a man and a woman become one flesh and that they become fruitful and have children.

Forming families is thus an essential commandment necessary for the plan of salvation to function correctly.  As Elder Christofferson points out, what could be more important than the setting through which God sends spirits to obtain physical bodies?  It is in this setting where His children would learn how to have a successful mortal life and be led  towards the spiritual rebirth each child will need fulfill the great plan of salvation.  That setting is the Family.

The Greatest Blessings of Eternity are reserved for those married couples who are sealed by the power of the priesthood and then remain faithful to their covenants.  In D&C Section 131-132 God outlines what the ultimate destiny for faithful families is:

  • They will be exalted in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (D&C 131:1–3; 132:20–24).
  • They will be together “in time, and through all eternity” (D&C 132:19). Their children may also be part of their eternal family.
  • They will “inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers” (D&C 132:19).
  • They will continue to have seed, or spirit children, throughout eternity (D&C 132:19, 30–31; see also D&C 131:4).

Given the gravity and importance the family has in the eyes of the Creator and His great plan of salvation we ought to approach our family roles with a degree of awe and reverence.  Viewing the family in its eternal context has led Apostles and Prophets to declare its importance.

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The center core of the Church is not the stake [center]; it is not the chapel. . . .The most sacred place on earth may not be the temple, necessarily. The chapel, the stake [center], and the temple are sacred as they contribute to the building of the most sacred institution in the Church—the home—and to the blessing of the most sacred relationships in the Church, the family”

Harold B. Lee said, “The most important of the Lord’s work you and I will ever do will be within the walls of our own homes.”

And David O. McKay taught: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

Satan’s Attack on the Family

Strengthening our understanding of the eternal nature of families is essential to do in this tumultuous time when Satan is attacking the family with ferocious vigor.  The Devil understands the importance the family has in God’s plan and tries to make us forget.

Satan has been very cunning and particular in his attack on God’s Plan of Salvation and in particular the doctrine of families.  He has systematically attacked the four ingredients Elder Christofferson said were necessary for the plan of salvation.  First, he removed our knowledge of the pre-existence and took life and families out of its eternal context.  He then attacked the concept of the creation by propagating the theories of men that have removed God from the equation.  He attacked the divinity of Christ and the need for a Redeemer.  And finally he has attacked the family to destroy the setting within which God’s children were ordained to enter this world through.

He currently attacks the family through promoting abortions. If he can prevent families from forming in the first place then this slows the progress of God’s children.  Second, he has attacked the divinely inspired division of labor between husband and wife by suggesting that the only necessary ingredient for a marriage is attraction between people.  This is how he is attacking one of Gods first commands to Adam that a man and a woman become one flesh.

Dietrich Bonhoffer, a German Theologian, writes a refute to the claim that marriage is simply about attraction.  He writes:

“Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.”

Dietrich Bonhoffer is saying love is not enough for a marriage and that marriage isn’t about your happiness.  Marriage is about duty and responsibility and comes from God.  Love without divine sanction cannot create a marriage.

He has attacked the very concept of gender itself and created identify confusion and chaos amongst many people.

Anticipating this assault, the First Presidency reaffirmed essential principles of family life in their 1995 Proclamation on the Family.  This proclamation confirmed the divine nature and mission of families, gender and marriage between a man and a woman.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of the Church, explained the reasoning behind this proclamation: “Why do we have this proclamation on the family now? Because the family is under attack. All across the world families are falling apart. The place to begin to improve society is in the home. Children do, for the most part, what they are taught. We are trying to make the world better by making the family stronger” (“Inspirational Thoughts,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 5).

Thus, to summarize, one way of strengthening the family is to have an eternal perspective of it and to remember its place in the plan of salvation.

However, given that Satan has declared war on every one of our families and works tirelessly to destroy temple marriages and eternal families, a casual observance of gospel principles will not be enough.  If you do not take steps to protect your family from Satan’s onslaught and rely upon the grace of God your family will fall.  I would like to therefore discuss some more important principles that we should observe in family life that will enable the protection and grace of God to come upon us.

III. Roles and Habits

The first principle to understand is that there is a divinely inspired division of labor between husbands and wives and that we are directly accountable to God for each task he has assigned us.  President Ezra Taft Benson outlined many different measurable duties that each Father has to his family.  Fathers, you are responsible to the Lord for ensuring these duties are performed, not your wife.

Fathers Duties

The First task is to ensure your family has full access to the blessings and ordinances of the priesthood.   Give father’s blessings to your children. Baptize and confirm your children. Ordain your sons to the priesthood.

A second duty is to personally direct family prayers, daily scripture reading, and weekly family home evenings. In my experience, these are not just good habits but essential to the maintenance of peaceful family life.   Not reading your scriptures or praying is like leaving the gates open and the guard towers unmanned when the enemy is at your door.  Reading your scriptures and praying daily invite the spirit of God into your life and will give you the grace that you need to overcome the devil’s assaults on your family.  Without your daily consent, God cannot violate your agency by forcing His spirit into your body.  Every day you must invite the Spirit to dwell within you because the Spirit makes fundamental transformations to who you are.  Can you imagine if God performed heart surgery on you without your consent?  That’s why we need to pray and read scriptures daily, because doing so gives God permission to give us a new heart.

Whenever possible, attend Church meetings together as a family. Spend regular one on one time with each child and build traditions of family vacations and trips and outings.

Other duties of Fathers includes setting a good example and teaching children to work, encouraging uplifting art and literature in your home and regularly attending the temple.

One of the most important duty for all Fathers is to love their wives.  The Apostle Paul points out that “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23; italics added). That is the model we are to follow in our role of presiding in the home. We do not find the Savior leading the Church with a harsh or unkind hand. We do not find the Savior treating His Church with disrespect or neglect. We do not find the Savior using force or coercion to accomplish His purposes. Nowhere do we find the Savior doing anything but that which edifies, uplifts, comforts, and exalts the Church. Brethren, I say to you with all soberness, He is the model we must follow as we take the spiritual lead in our families.1

The Family: A Proclamation to the World summarizes a Father’s Duties Nicely.  It says: “Fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”

Mothers Duties

President Benson also has some counsel for wives.  He lists some duties that wives are primarily responsible for. He says that:

  • Mothers are to conceive, to bear, to nourish, to love, and to train.
  • Whenever possible, be at the crossroads when your children are either coming or going—when they leave and return from school, when they leave or return from dates, when they bring friends home.”  Elder Benson is encouraging mothers to provide the consistency and reliability that children need from an attachment figure.  When children learn that mothers are responsive to their needs and that they are consistently present they will become securely attached and better be able to venture out into the world, trusting that home is a safe haven to retreat to if necessary.

Other duties President Benson counsels wives to fulfill include:  regularly reading to your children and ensuring that the family eats meals together as often as possible.  Make deliberate efforts to schedule family outings, picnics and other celebrations and events.  And finally mothers, teach your children the gospel in your own home.  The church is merely a supplement to be used in your training but ultimately the responsibility to educate your children rests on you.

B.) Structure- Discipline, Schedules, Tracking, Meetings, Goal Setting & Planning, Token Economies

Another way to strengthen families is to build for your families a structural framework based on sound principles and consistency.  A lot of family struggles come from a lack of structure and consistency. Elder Bednar taught that: “Consistency is a key principle as we lay the foundation of a great work in our individual lives and as we become more diligent and concerned in our own homes.”  (David A. Bednar- More Diligent and Concerned at Home)

For example, one of the major duties of parents towards children is to teach, guide and train them which will occasionally involve discipline.  How consistent are you in discipline? Are family rules known by all members of the family and are they clearly articulated or written down to refer to?  Are consequences attached to those rules in advance so that children do not feel they are corrected arbitrarily?

Hebrews 12: 6-8 Records: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.”

Just as God chastens us when we need correction, we are responsible for correcting our children in a righteous manner. One theory of parenting styles sees parenting as occurring along two dimensions: warmth and control.  When Warmth is high and control is low we have what is called permissive parenting.  This style leads to spoiled children who don’t learn responsibility or respect for authority.

When control is high and warmth is low we have authoritarian parenting.  This style leads to children who are afraid of their parents as the relationship becomes dominated by corrective experiences and lacks warmth.   The ideal is a balance between warmth and control where we discipline when appropriate but show forth an increase of love afterwards and make sure that we keep a healthy ratio between positive interactions with family members and negative corrective ones.  In relationships, a wise principle is to have 7 positive interactions for every negative interaction that you experience.  Are you aware of the ratio between positives and negatives in your family experience?  Do you make a conscious effort to increase the positives and decrease the negatives?

Does your family have a mission statement?  Does it meet regularly to set goals and track the accomplishment of them? I think we would see miraculous results if we put as much thought and effort into running our families as we do in running our careers or our businesses.

The Law of Chastity

Another important way that we can strengthen families is to understand and obey the law of Chastity.  The law of Chastity is something that is not understood by much of society.  However, when it comes down to it, the law of chastity is quite simple, in that it is a law designed to protect families.  Keeping sexual relations between a husband and wife ensures that children have a much higher chance of being born into a setting that can fully support and provide for their development. In the context of the plan of salvation, God desires to only send children into a home with a mother and father who are responsible for ensuring the safe return of that child to their heavenly home.

Why did the Lord Command “Thou Shalt not commit Adultery”? It is because adultery destroys families.  Why has God commanded us not to have sex before marriage?  It is because doing so creates the chance that a child will be born into a setting where his/her parents are not committed to one another and thus cannot provide the stability and setting necessary for that child’s optimal development. Fornication brings children into broken families.   Again, why has the Lord commanded us not to view pornography? It is because pornography magnifies our lusts and teaches us to profane our sacred creative power outside of what God has ordained.  It causes us to associate sex with those we are not married to and promotes the mockery and desecration of a Holy sacrament. Ultimately, pornography destroys families.

God also teaches men and women to be modest in dress because it protects families.  When we dress immodestly, this may stimulate feelings of desire in others and tempt them to engage in unlawful sexual relations.

Abortion is a sin because it prevents families from forming in the first place!  It also involves killing a child and denying them the experience of mortality for which we all “shouted for joy” at the opportunity to come down here.  We see here the Devil’s strategy to destroy God’s command in Genesis to multiply and replenish the earth.

What we call Abortion today was named child sacrifice in ancient societies.  Euphemistic labels attempt to hide the truth and erase the differences between child sacrifice and abortion but many have drawn parallels between the two practices.

An early reference to child sacrifice in the Bible is found in Leviticus where the practice is address by Moses in connection with Moloch whom the Canaanites worshipped.  The Lord said to Moses, say to the Israelites that anyone who sacrifices their children to Moloch: “I will set my face against that man and  will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Moloch he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Moloch… I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Moloch.”

The Old Testament scholar Moshe Weinfeld points out the parallels between modern abortion and ancient Moloch worship and child sacrifice. He says that Ancient Moloch worship involved cultic prostitution, and the children born of this prostitution were handed over to priests to be sacrificed to their god Moloch.  This child sacrifice offered a convenient way to dispose of the consequences of sexual immorality. Like ancient ritual sacrifice designed to bestow favor from the Gods, modern abortion practice is designed to achieve favors from the world and may include seeking convenience, wealth, pleasure without responsibility, and so on.  In each case the life of another is sacrificed for the convenience of another.  Just as prostitution cults used Moloch worship to eliminate the consequences of sexual immorality, so today do abortions offer a convenient way to eliminate the consequences of sexual immorality.

Child Sacrifice was so appalling to the God of Israel that He decreed that the community that hid their eyes in the face of this abhorrent practice and did nothing to try to stop it would be cut off.  It is estimated that since 1980, 1.6 billion children have been killed or offered up on the altar of sex gratification.  Moloch worship is thriving more today than it ever has, though guised in the jargon of secular materialism and other such rationalizations through the philosophies of men.

Given the importance of families in the plan of salvation, is it any wonder why God has declared that sexual transgression is second only to murder in seriousness?  Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explains: it is LDS doctrine that sexual transgression is second only to murder in the Lord’s list of life’s most serious sins….Clearly God’s greatest concerns regarding mortality are how one gets into this world and how one gets out of it. These two most important issues in our very personal and carefully supervised progress are the two issues that he as our Creator and Father and Guide wishes most to reserve to himself. These are the two matters that he has repeatedly told us he wants us never to take illegally, illicitly, unfaithfully, without sanction.  —Jeffrey R. Holland

Unity: Complementarity, Avoiding Contention, Forgiveness

Complementarity

Another way that we can strengthen the family is to strive for unity in our homes and to avoid contention.  This unity is often achieved through complementary parts forming a whole.

Elder Eyring taught: “A man and his wife learn to be one by using their similarities to understand each other and their differences to complement each other in serving one another and those around them.”

The Apostle Paul taught:”1 Cor 1: 11 Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.”

Man and woman complement each other and together possess all of the divine gifts necessary for a fully functioning family unit.  Two people of the same sex simply do not and cannot become whole together because the divine complementarity of the other gender is simply missing.  The Creator knows His Creation and has decreed that a man and woman are simply not whole without each other.  To forfeit union with the opposite gender is to simply halt progression for to be like God is to have an eternal increase and that increase is entitled to both a mother and a father just as we have a heavenly mother and father.

Thus, one way we achieve wholeness or Holiness is through the union of complementary parts.

One common principle in couples counseling is that every couple has irreconcilable differences.  What matters is how you view those differences.  I suppose the same could be said for families.  You are going to have real differences in opinion and interests from others in your family.  Diversity can be a strength and God crafted your family so that the whole would be greater than the sum of the parts.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of the importance of diversity in a body.  Just as the individual body parts work together to create a greater whole so do the individual members of a family, with their differences, work together to create a greater whole.

  • 1 Cor 12 Records: 16 and if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
  • 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
  • 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
  • 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?
  • 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
  • 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

Avoiding Contention

Another way to strengthen the family and achieve unity is through recognizing and avoiding contention.  Contention is defined as a striving against one another, especially in controversy or argument. It is to struggle, fight, battle, quarrel, or dispute.

We are commanded not to contend one with another.  Jesus taught:  “There shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is … my doctrine that such things should be done away.” (3 Nephi 11:28-30)

Even when we believe we are right we should not contend with our family members. Elder Oaks taught: “The Savior did not limit His warning against contention to those who were not keeping the commandment about baptism. He forbade contention by anyone. Even those who keep the commandments must not stir up the hearts of men to contend with anger. The “father of contention” is the devil; the Savior is the Prince of Peace. …We should speak the truth in love, mildness and meekness. (Dallin H. Oaks-Loving Others and Living with Differences)

Similarly, the Bible teaches that “wise men turn away wrath” (Proverbs 29:8). The early Apostles taught that we should “follow after the things that make for peace” (Romans 14:19) and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), “For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

In modern revelation the Lord commanded that the glad tidings of the restored gospel should be declared “every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41), “with all humility, … reviling not against revilers” (D&C 19:30).

When we disagree with family members do we do so in mildness and meekness, not reviling each other?  Or do we yell and argue and contend with one another because we know we are right?  Remember, even when you are right Jesus taught that we are to speak the truth in love and meekness and never to debate or argue in anger, hostility or condescension.

Forgiveness

The last principle that I would like to discuss on strengthening families and achieving unity involves the importance of forgiveness.  If I could list perhaps the most important attribute of families it would probably be that its members are merciful and forgive one another abundantly.  Without an attitude of generosity towards faults and offenses our families will fall apart.

Forgiveness is important because, as the Apostle Paul taught, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every one of our family members will disappoint us at some point in our lives.   We, as fallen human beings, are flawed by nature.  Mosiah 3: 19 records: For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit.”  Recognizing the fallen nature of man, Nephi proclaimed: “Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Ne. 4:17–18, 27, 34).  If you are expecting perfection from your family members you will be let down.  Our family members are fallen people just like we are and are in need of grace, mercy and redemption just like we are.

God, knowing perfectly the fallen nature of His creation, therefore commanded us to abundantly forgive.  The Gospel of Matthew records:

  • “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21) Essentially, Jesus was saying that there is no set limit to the number of times we are to forgive others.

This principle of mercy or forgiveness is so important, that we cannot inherit salvation and exaltation without developing it.  Jesus taught: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6.14-15).

One way we can show mercy, forgiveness and charity to our family members is to not bind them with the chains of a constraining narrative or to use unhelpful labels.  When we put a label on someone, we oversimplify the complexity of the person and assign permanent essential character traits.  A narrative is simply a story with a specific theme.  If we create negative narratives to describe the life of a family member this will form a filter through which we interpret and view them.  Narratives and labels are prone to confirmation bias, which means that we see what we expect to see and ignore any evidence that would contradict the story we are trying to tell.  Thus narratives and labels can become self-fulfilling and once applied are very resistant to change.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his talk “Remember Lott’s Wife” gives some excellent counsel on how we ought to respond to those who have wronged us.  He teaches:

“I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in.”

He continues…There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life— either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist.

When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal.

Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is it charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried.”

If we keep throwing the faults, sins and mistakes of family members in their faces through destructive labels or narratives then at some point we are under greater condemnation than the original sinner.  In D&C the Lord taught:

“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” (D&C 64: 8-11)

Brothers and Sisters, if we are tempted to not forgive others or to believe we are superior to those who have wronged us, remember the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican recorded in Luke 18:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

One final note on forgiveness is how we define it.  There are many people who confuse forgiveness with condoning, excusing or reconciling but it is not.  Elder Richard G. Scott clarifies what forgiveness is, especially in relation to those who have wronged us.  He teaches: “”Forgiveness does not imply that an individual has “forgotten” all memories of the abuse, that he or she condones the behavior or absolves the perpetrator of responsibility, or that he or she must become reconciled with the perpetrator, particularly if there is the possibility of further abuse. What forgiveness does imply is that an individual has relinquished feelings of hate or bitterness toward another, has placed the matter in the Lord’s hands, and has enabled Him to operate more fully in his or her life. In forgiving, an individual frees himself from the perpetrator and is therefore better able to progress.” Richard G. Scott

Thus, to forgive is to let go of our anger, bitterness and hatred towards another who has wronged us and to put it in the hands of God, trusting that He will deal with it and submitting ourselves to His will in the matter as revealed through the Holy Ghost.  It means that we do not seek vengeance or to be the ones to punish: Paul admonished the Romans when he said: “ Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves..for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  (Romans 12: 19 )

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, family can be strengthened by remembering to view it within its eternal context and within its place in the plan of salvation.  The Devil is working hard to destroy our families and so we must be diligent in learning and implementing habits based on our divine roles that grant us the grace and protection we need.  Structure and consistency can be used to strengthen families and understanding and strictly keeping the law of chastity is foundational to maintaining our families.  Finally, we can strive for unity through appreciating the complementary of diversity, cultivating a spirit of forgiveness and grace and by avoiding contention in our homes.

I close now with my testimony that families are divinely inspired by God and that living the principles of the gospel has protected and saved my family and that if it were built on any other foundation that it would have failed by now. These Divine Truths are the only truths that can be known because they are impressed upon our souls by the infinite.  Without a transcendent infinite power fallen man could truly know nothing of a certainty but I testify that God has transcended and witnessed unto me that that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He is our personal Savior and Redeemer from the fall.  I know that Jesus Christ and God the Father did in fact restore the true church through the prophet Joseph Smith and that only this church has the authority to administer in the ordinances of salvation.  I leave this message with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living in the Present Moment

From an address given in June 2016

Intro & Thesis

Good Evening Brothers and Sisters.  Tonight, I have been asked to speak to you tonight on Living in the Present Moment and how to find joy in our mortal journey right now.  I will do this through first articulating common barriers that arise that rob us of the ability to live in the present moment.  After I discuss the barrier I suggest solutions for overcoming these problems.  The barriers that I will be discussing include forms of living in the past: , guilt, shame and grudge-bearing; barriers to living in the present including drudgery and aimlessness; and  finally living in the future through stress, anxiety and worry.  The inability to live in the present moment leads to all sorts of destructive coping mechanisms such as escapism and addiction. In contrast, the capacity to live in the present moment is a key element of finding happiness in this life, and I will use Gospel principles corroborated by research to prove the point.

Barriers & Solutions I: Guilt & Repentance

The first thing that can rob you of the ability to live in the present moment is guilt.  From a spiritual perspective, we will all experience guilt that arises from sin for the Apostle Paul taught: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  From a psychological perspective, emotions are caused by thoughts.  Thus, Guilt is the emotion that arises when you think: “I have done something wrong.”

This thought can trigger from 5 common types of experiences:
i.) Guilt for something that you actually did.
ii.) Guilt for something that you thought of doing.
iii.) Guilt for something that you think you did but aren’t sure of.
iv.) Guilt because you don’t believe you did enough to help someone.
v.) and finally, Guilt for doing better than somebody else.

Since the experience of guilt relies on our imperfect analysis of life data, it follows that we will sometimes have disproportionate or unrealistic guilt that may be robbing us of the ability to live in the present moment.

From a spiritual perspective, President Boyd K. Packer taught us that guilt is an internal warning system analogous to pain for the physical body.  Pain is designed to warn you that damage is being done to your physical body and it overwhelms your attention so that you are motivated to do something to prevent further physical damage.  The ability to experience pain is essential to survival as evidenced by those people with a rare disorder called congenital analgesia.  These people cannot feel pain and thus cannot tell when damage is being done to their body.  Without this warning system, these people are at a much higher risk of death.

Similarly, guilt is the spiritual warning system that indicates that damage is being done to our spirits.  The more severe the guilt the more damage is being done to our spirit.  Like pain, guilt overwhelms our attention and can make every moment a dysphoric (or negative) experience. Like congenital analgesia, a form of spiritual analgesia can occur if we continually ignore guilt signals. Paul referred to this condition when he wrote to Timothy of those who had their “conscience seared with a hot iron.”

So, how do we eliminate guilt without becoming spiritually dead?  We have to first assess guilt along two dimensions: realism and severity. Guilt can be inappropriate when we believe we have done something wrong but we really have not.  This can occur when we feel guilty for simply thinking of something.  There is a difference between what we would call intrusive thoughts or temptations and thoughts that we have dwelt upon and invited in.  It is not a sin to be tempted for Paul teaches us that even Jesus was tempted.  Hebrews 2:18 records: “For in that he himself (Jesus) hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18.)  Our thoughts only become sinful when we encourage and invite our temptations to stay.

The inability to differentiate between intrusive tempting thoughts and sin is at the heart of many presentations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.  When we catastrophize or “make a catastrophe” of an intrusive thought we can develop distorted guilty feelings and create rituals to compensate for our perceived wrongs.

Paradoxically, when you try too hard to suppress a tempting thought you can actually increase it in what is called the “rebound effect.” Here is an example of the rebound effect: “For the next 10 seconds I want you to think of anything but a white bear.”  Most people report being unable to not think of the white bear.  The solution for intrusive thoughts and avoiding the rebound effect is to not be afraid of the thought and to accept it for what it is: a temptation.  Once you accept that you are being tempted and don’t fear the thought then you can dismiss it.

We can also reality test our guilt by examining the evidence.  Reality testing is simply determining if something is true and accurate or not.  Seek guidance from the Holy Ghost and get input from others as to how guilty you are of something you are unsure of.

If you have reality tested your guilt and found that you are in fact guilty of sin then there is only one solution that will allow you to eliminate that guilt and be able to live in a state of peace.  That solution is to unlock the Atonement of Jesus Christ through the key of repentance.  Repentance is truly one of the greatest blessings that God has made available to us and every one of us will need to become familiar with this too if we wish to be able to find true joy and live in the present moment.  John taught that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” “If we say that we have not sinned, we make [the Lord] a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 8-10)

In order to repent, you must follow these 7 simple steps. First you must recognize that you have sinned, as I have already discussed.  Second, you must feel true godly sorrow for what you have done and not the sorrow of the damned.  Godly sorrow is genuine remorse while the sorrowing of the damned is simply sorrow for getting caught or sorrow that God would not always allow you to take pleasure in sin.  Third, we must forsake our sins and try our best not to repeat them.  We then must confess our sins to God and to proper priesthood authority for violations of covenants, especially the law of Chastity. Afterwards we do all we can to make restitution and rely upon the Grace of Jesus Christ to make up for what you cannot restore.  We then maintain a remission of our sins by keeping the commandments and forgiving all who have wronged us.

President Packer exhorts us to repent and use the atonement daily. He states:  “For some reason, we think the Atonement of Christ applies only at the end of mortal life to redemption from the fall, from spiritual death. It is much more than that. It is an ever-present power to call upon in everyday life. When we are racked or harrowed up or tormented by guilt or burdened with grief, He can heal us… We all make mistakes. Sometimes we harm ourselves and seriously injure others in ways that we alone cannot repair. We break things that we alone cannot fix. It is then in our nature to feel guilt and humiliation and suffering, which we alone cannot cure. That is when the healing power of the Atonement will help…The Atonement has practical, personal, everyday value; apply it in your life. It can be activated with so simple a beginning as prayer.”

When we utilize the atonement we find peace that only the Savior can give: He taught: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)”

How do we utilize the atonement in our daily lives?  First, you must believe that Jesus Christ can heal you and will give you eternal life. Alma taught that If you can even manage a desire to believe this, act “as if” this belief is true and judge the results. Your Faith in Christ will lead you to comply with the conditions He has set for healing. The major condition is repentance of ALL of your sins. This involves confessing and forsaking any evil in our lives. After you have expressed faith and repented, look to the next ordinance of salvation. Afterwards, your faith and healing have to be actively maintained by daily scripture study, prayer and partaking of the sacrament each week.  If you have done all of these things, you will have peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.

When we experience guilt, we lose the ability to live in the moment as we are chained to the mistakes of our past.  Living with guilt is thus a form of living in the past. We can become free of this guilt by reality testing it and subjecting it to evidence, by utilizing the atonement and repenting of our sins.  When we do all of these things we can free ourselves from the past and find peace that only Christ can offer us.

Barriers & Solutions II: Shame & Resilience

The next barrier to living in the moment is another form of living in the past and that is the experience of Shame.  Many confuse shame with guilt and use them interchangeably but they are different.  While guilt can lead to positive outcomes researchers have not found that shame correlates with any positive change.  Shame is destructive while guilt can be constructive.  The differences are best summarized in this way: When you do something wrong, guilt says: “I did something bad.”  Shame says, “I am bad.”  Shame researcher Brene Brown defines shame in this way: “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”  Shame is manifested through thoughts such as: “If they only knew this, I would be rejected,” or “I’m not good enough to belong here.”  How can you take joy in the present moment if you are bogged down with such a destructive and untrue belief?

If you believe that your imperfections, make you undeserving or incapable of love and belonging then you are experiencing shame.  This belief and attitude is entirely destructive and is not supported by scripture and the teachings of the prophets.  The antidote for shame is a correct understanding of Gospel principles and in embracing your vulnerability.  Contrast these shame beliefs with the attitude that the Apostle Paul would have us take.

Paul taught the Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword….Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 35-39) In other words, apart from denying the Holy Ghost, there is nothing that you can do that will separate you from the love and grace of Jesus Christ.  All belong and are beloved sons and daughters of God.

King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon taught us that: “The natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticing’s of the Holy Spirit.”

In the Book of Ether the Lord teaches us more about how we should relate to and view our own weaknesses and flaws:  12: 27 “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”  Thus, according to the Lord weaknesses are given to us by Him in order to make us humble and to teach us to rely upon God.  He reminds us that the Lord’s grace is sufficient to make up for whatever we lack.

These scriptures teach us that we are all sinners with tremendous weaknesses but that these qualities  are necessary for our eternal education and progression.   As we come unto Christ and rely upon His Grace and have faith in his love for us then we can overcome anything and there need not be any shame in our fallen condition.

Apart from viewing our flaws and weaknesses through a Gospel lens we can also deal with shame through exercising self-compassion.  There are 3 components of self-compassion: Self-Kindness, common humanity or recognizing that challenges and failures are part of being human that everyone shares and mindfulness which as a non-judgmental mind state of acceptance rather than repression and denial.  Self-compassion stands in contrast with being critical of ourselves.  Contrary to expectations, being self-critical actually is not correlated with any positive outcomes nor Is it a good motivator for positive change.  Researchers have found that, paradoxically, exercising self-compassion and forgiving yourself is more likely to lead to positive change than beating yourself up.  Self-compassion is motivated by love while being self-critical is motivated by fear.

And one final way that we can deal with shame or this belief that we are flawed and do not belong is to experience empathy from another person.  Shame is perpetuated and maintained by silence.  When you give words to your experience and have someone else respond with empathy and understanding then shame loses its power.  One research team found that the act of not discussing a traumatic event or confiding it to another person could be more damaging than the actual event. Conversely, when people shared their stories and experiences, their physical health improved, their doctor’s visits decreased, and they showed significant decreases in their stress hormones.

Thus, to summarize, we can overcome experiences of shame through interpreting our weaknesses and flaws through a Gospel frame, exercising self-compassion and speaking to others of our experiences.

Barriers & Solutions III: Grudges & Forgiveness

The final form of living in the past that I am going to talk about is grudge-bearing or failing to forgive.  One Psychologist describes grudge-bearing as: “incorporating a complex of negative emotions, negative thoughts, negative motivations, and avoidance behavior focused on the offender and the transgression. The negative emotions are primarily feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment, but also include fear of future harm. The negative thoughts reflect memories of what a person said or did… The negative motivations often focus on revenge or hoping for justice…

Grudge-bearing focuses on the past and keeps people bound to living in the past. The process of forgiveness frees a person to focus on the present and the future.” (The Psychology of Forgiveness: Sutton, 2014)

Forgiveness is important because, as the Apostle Paul taught, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Everybody in your life will disappoint you at some point.   We, as fallen human beings, are flawed by nature.  Recognizing the fallen nature of man, Nephi proclaimed: “Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm” (2 Ne. 4:17–18, 27, 34).  If you are expecting perfection from others you will be let down.  Our family and friends are fallen people just like we are and are in need of grace, mercy and redemption just like we are.

God, knowing perfectly the fallen nature of His creation, therefore commanded us to abundantly forgive.  The Gospel of Matthew records:

  • “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:21) Essentially, Jesus was saying that there is no set limit to the number of times we are to forgive others.

This principle of mercy or forgiveness is so important, that we cannot inherit salvation and exaltation without developing it.  Jesus taught: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6.14-15).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, in his talk “Remember Lott’s Wife” gives some excellent counsel on how we ought to respond to those who have wronged us.  He teaches: “I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in.”

He continues…There is something in us, at least in too many of us, that particularly fails to forgive and forget earlier mistakes in life— either mistakes we ourselves have made or the mistakes of others. That is not good. It is not Christian. It stands in terrible opposition to the grandeur and majesty of the Atonement of Christ. To be tied to earlier mistakes—our own or other people’s—is the worst kind of wallowing in the past from which we are called to cease and desist.

When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is not right to go back and open up some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died trying to heal.

Let people repent. Let people grow. Believe that people can change and improve. Is that faith? Yes! Is that hope? Yes! Is it charity? Yes! Above all, it is charity, the pure love of Christ. If something is buried in the past, leave it buried.”

If we keep throwing the faults, sins and mistakes of others in their faces then at some point we are under greater condemnation than the original sinner.  In D&C the Lord taught:

  • “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. (D&C 64: 8-11)

Brothers and Sisters, if we are tempted to not forgive others or to believe we are superior to those who have wronged us, remember the Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican recorded in Luke 18:

10 Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

One final note on forgiveness is how we define it.  There are many people who confuse forgiveness with condoning, excusing or reconciling but it is not.  Elder Richard G. Scott clarifies what forgiveness is, especially in relation to those who have wronged us.  He teaches: “”Forgiveness does not imply that an individual has “forgotten” all memories of the abuse, that he or she condones the behavior or absolves the perpetrator of responsibility, or that he or she must become reconciled with the perpetrator, particularly if there is the possibility of further abuse. What forgiveness does imply is that an individual has relinquished feelings of hate or bitterness toward another, has placed the matter in the Lord’s hands, and has enabled Him to operate more fully in his or her life. In forgiving, an individual frees himself from the perpetrator and is therefore better able to progress.” Richard G. Scott

Thus, to forgive is to let go of our anger, bitterness and hatred towards another who has wronged us and to put it in the hands of God, trusting that He will deal with it and submitting ourselves to His will in the matter as revealed through the Holy Ghost.  It means that we do not seek vengeance or to be the ones to punish: Paul admonished the Romans when he said: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves…for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”  (Romans 12: 19 )

If there is anyone in your lives that you are in need of forgiving, do so immediately.  Many studies have been done that have verified the benefits of forgiveness.  Those who forgive abundantly have a higher state of well-being, less depression, they live longer and heal quicker after entering a hospital.  When you forgive, you free up scare mental resources that were devoted to nurturing the grudge and are capable of enjoying the present moment, free of past wrongs.

Barriers & Solutions IV: Living in the Present:  Drudgery & Flow

Now that we have discussed different forms of living in the past I would like to turn now to a present barrier to living in the moment and that is drudgery.  Drudgery is defined as engaging in distasteful or dull work. President Hinckley taught us that “Work without vision is drudgery.”  When you are engaged in aimless, boring work that isn’t developing your talents and for which you don’t see meaning you will have a hard time living in the present moment.  Choosing your life’s work is one of the most important decisions you will ever make in your life.  Choosing the wrong path for you can lead to a life of drudgery. President Thomas S. Monson taught of how important this decision is he said:

“My advice to them..is that you should study and prepare for your life’s work in a field that you enjoy, because you are going to spend a good share of your life in that field. It should be one which will challenge your intellect and which will make maximum utilization of your talents and your capabilities. Finally, it should be a field that will supply sufficient remuneration to provide adequately for your companion and your children. Now that’s a big order. But I bear testimony that these criteria are very important in choosing your life’s work.”

Other theories derived from psychological research can also help guide you in deciding whether your current life’s work is optimized to achieve happiness.

The Researcher John Holland developed a theory that suggests there are 6 different types of work environments that correspond to 6 personality types.

The First personality type is: Realistic, these people Like to work with animals, tools, or machines; generally avoid social activities like teaching, counseling, nursing, and informing others; They have good skills in working with tools, mechanical drawings, machines or animals, They Value practical things you can see and touch — like plants and animals you can grow, or things you can build or make better; They see themselves as practical, mechanical, and realistic.

The Second type is Investigative: these people Like to study and solve math or science problems; they generally avoid leading, selling, or persuading people; Has good skills at understanding and solving science and math problems; Values science, and sees self as precise, scientific, and intellectual.

The third type is Artistic: They Like to do creative activities like art, drama, crafts, dance, music, or creative writing; they generally avoid highly ordered or repetitive activities; They have good artistic abilities – in creative writing, drama, crafts, music, or art and they value the creative arts – like drama, music, art, or the works of creative writers; and See themselves as expressive, original, and independent.

The fourth type is Social: They Like to do things to help people – like teaching, counseling, nursing, or giving information; They generally avoid using machines, tools, or animals to achieve a goal; They Have good skills at teaching, counseling, nursing, or giving information; They value helping people and solving social problems; They See themselves as helpful, friendly, and trustworthy.

The Fifth type is Enterprising: These people like to lead and persuade people, and to sell things and ideas; they generally avoid activities that require careful observation and scientific, analytical thinking; They are good at leading people and selling things or ideas; They Value success in politics, leadership, or business; and see themselves as energetic, ambitious, and sociable.

The last type is Conventional: They like to work with numbers, records, or machines in a set, orderly way; they generally avoids ambiguous, unstructured activities.  They are good at working with written records and numbers in a systematic, orderly way; They value success in business; and see themselves as orderly, and good at following a set plan.

The point of the theory is to discover what your personality type is in order to find a matching work environment.  If you are an artistic person working in a conventional work setting chances are you will not be satisfied and your life will become drudgery.

Another theory that can help you determine the best job fit is called job characteristics theory.  According to this theory, work satisfaction can be predicted by examining five different characteristics of your work.  The characteristics of fulfilling work, whether church or secular, include the following:
1) Skill variety which means the job requires the use of diverse skills and talents and not just one repetitive action.
2) Fulfilling jobs allow you to be in charge of completing a whole piece of work from start to finish.
3) They also allow you to contribute to something greater than yourself and thus have meaning.
4) Fulfilling job gives the person autonomy or freedom in scheduling hours and determining how to get the work done.
5) And finally fulfilling jobs provide a feedback system where you can see the impact of your work.

This counsel from modern prophets and psychological research is designed to help you avoid drudgery and thus be able to appreciate your life’s work.  If you choose wisely then you will experience a state of consciousness that psychologists have called “flow.” Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you were “in the zone?” This is flow.  It is an experience that includes losing all sense of time, distractions fade away and you are living completely in the present moment.  Pay attention to what activities give you this sense of “flow” and it will be a good indication of what your life’s work will be.

Barriers & Solutions III: Living in the Future: Anxiety & Faith

Now that we have discussed living in the past and dealing with barriers in the present, I would like to end by speaking on a form of living in the future: anxiety and stress.  Anxiety is the emotion that we feel when we think: “Danger, there is something coming that is going to harm me.”  Stress is simply a perception.  It is a judgment that we make that we will not be able to handle something that is upcoming.

Once you tell your body that something dangerous is about to happen that will exceed your ability to handle it, the body responds by activing the fight-or-flight response but in the case of anxiety it is flight.  Your heart begins to beat faster to feed more blood to your muscles to help you run away; You begin to experience tunnel vision on the threatening object or event so that you can avoid distraction; Your thoughts race to help you evaluate numerous courses of action; You begin to hyperventilate to take in more oxygen for demanding physical tasks and your palms become sweaty to help cool down your body.  Your body does all of this to prepare because you made a decision or a judgment that you cannot handle whatever is coming.

Anxiety disorders or chronic worrying occur when individuals are perceiving danger that is disproportionate to the reality of that danger.  That perception can activate the body’s stress response too frequently which leads to health problems. Chronic worry, stress and anxiety are some of the biggest thieves of joy and living in the present moment.

The antidote for anxiety is faith and obedience to God’s commandments.  Standing in stark contrast to these anxiety beliefs are the promises that God has given us that He asks us to have faith in.

If you have put your faith in anything other than the God of Israel then your life will be riddled with doubt, stress and anxiety.  Only God can give you real security which will allow you to have enough trust to let go of worries and be able to live in the present moment.

The First Commandment tells us how to be happy. God Revealed to Moses “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)” If we set our hearts upon anything other than God we will never be satisfied. The Author of Ecclesiastes teaches us: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Only Jesus can give us the water that will permanently quench our thirst for happiness and alleviate our worries.“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall bein him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)

The Scriptures give us certain promises that we can trust in that will cast away all of our fears if we truly believe them. I would suggest 5 specific promises for you to remember the next time you are stressed out or worrying:

First, God has promised us eternal Life.  “And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” (1 John 2:25) Eternal Life means living forever with Him in a state of endless joy beyond our comprehension.  Your current struggles are temporary in nature and if you are faithful your ultimate happiness is guaranteed.

  1. God has promised to compensate us for all our losses in this life. “Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29‐30)
  2. God has promised us that we will always have the resources we need to deal with stressful situations. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  3. God has established boundaries in your life that no evil can pass. “ I believe that the first and foremost thing for us to remember is that our beloved Master is in charge. In him we live and move and have our being. He has placed controls on the course of the heavens, the forces and events of nature, the course of nations, and the life of every human being. He grants each of us on this earth enough agency to show our true nature, but never enough to destroy his own purposes. Because men have agency, there is evil. But that evil always has bounds.” ‐Chauncey C. Riddle

To Joseph Smith in moments of trial, and referring to his enemies, the Lord said, “Hold on thy way, for their bounds are set, they cannot pass.” (D&C 122:9.)

  1. God has promised to turn all of our struggles, sorrows and hardships into gains for us. “Nevertheless, Jacob, my first‐born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God; and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain.” (2 Nephi 2:2)

Faith in the Promises of God leads us to Happiness & Soul Security.  However, in order to put faith in those promises you need to be clear on your standing before Him.  If your anxieties are around unrepented sins then as Alma taught his wayward son Corianton, let those anxieties work in you to bring you down into repentance and then you may

  1. In order to feel peace at, you must know your standing before God. If God is pleased with your life, you ultimate happiness is guaranteed.

“We next proceed to treat of the knowledge which a person must have, that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God, in order that they may be enabled to exercise faith in him unto life and salvation. It was this that enabled the ancient saints to endure all their afflictions and persecutions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing that they had a more enduring substance.” (Joseph Smith)

Once again, psychological research backs up the importance of Faith.  One researcher set out to define and determine what exactly Happiness was.  Here was his conclusion after years of research:

“Happiness is the attitude we call trust – a profound trust –accompanied by a reassuring feeling of confidence that one can effectively handle whatever life may bring, good or bad. This attitude of trust allows one to live in the present moment in which there are no frets about the past or worries about the future. This feeling of confidence is pleasant, refreshing, and steadfast.”

In other words, happy people who can live in the present moment have immense trust or faith that they can handle what life brings and that ultimately everything will work out for their good. Happiness is therefore synonymous with Faith.

As Latter Day Saints we have been promised that ““all things work together for good to them that love God.” (Romans 8:28)

Apart from developing a profound trust in God, you can also learn to challenge your anxiety thoughts by recognizing distorted thinking.  A distorted thought is one that skews reality in a certain direction, usually in a negative one.  There are 3 common distortions that are present in anxiety thoughts: catastrophizing, overestimating threat and underestimating the ability to cope.  For example, social anxiety is usually characterized by thoughts such as: “If I speak up, I will be rejected.”  This belief is often distorted because the person often overestimates the likelihood of this happening, underestimates their ability to handle it if it does occur and magnifies or catastrophizes the consequences.  If anxious thoughts are robbing you of happiness in the moment take some time to write those thoughts down and check if you are making a catastrophe, overestimating threat or underestimating your ability to cope.

Conclusion & Summary

To summarize, the capacity to live in the present moment is a key element of finding happiness in this life.  We sometimes rob ourselves of this ability by being tied to the past through guilt, shame and grudge-bearing.  We can free ourselves of the past through utilizing the atonement, experiencing empathy from others, having self-compassion and learning to forgive.  Sometimes barriers in the present such as drudgery and aimlessness impede our ability to enjoy our lives.  We can take counsel from modern prophets and apostles and use theories derived from research to ensure our personalities and talents match our work environment and that our work possesses all of the necessary characteristics for fulfillment.  Finally, we can also lose the capacity to live in the present moment by focusing too much on the future through anxiety, stress and worry.  We can challenge our anxious thoughts by developing trust in God and His promises and through learning to recognize and correct distorted thinking.

I close now with my testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that only through Him can you find the peace and grace necessary to give you happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come.  He is the author of our salvation, the cause for our joy and the Great Redeemer of mankind.  It is because our Lord successfully completed His mission to atone for the sins of all mankind that we have reason to rejoice and trust fully in Him who is mighty to save, relying upon His merits and not our own.  I leave this message with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Submitting to the Will of God in all things

Sacrament Talk Transcript From Nov. 2016

Introduction

Good morning brothers and sisters.  I was asked to give a talk on some stories from the Bible, with a focus on one from the New Testament.  I will base my message on a story from the New Testament in which Jesus asked His disciples to count the cost of discipleship and to answer whether they were willing to pay the price or not.

Jesus gave a parable in the New Testament about counting the cost of discipleship.  Luke 14: 25-33 reads:

25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,

26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?

29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,

30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

33 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.  (Luke 14: 25-33)

Jesus compared each of us to a builder who has to sit down and decide if he is willing pay the price necessary to complete the construction project.  Have you considered the cost of eternal life and have you paid it?  Have you begun constructing your mansion in heaven without considering or being able to pay the price to finish it?

What is that price?  That price, as Jesus taught, is all that we have and are.  God requires nothing less of us than absolutely everything, if we are to inherit eternal life.

Section 1: The Foundational Commandment

Other scriptures testify of the importance of submitting to the will of God in all things, which I consider to be the most important lesson that Jesus ever taught.

When the earth was being created, God said that the purpose of its creation was to be a place where He could determine who would submit to His will in all things, and who would not.  Abraham 3: 24-25 records:

“And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.” (Abr 3: 24-25)

When God gave the Israelites the 10 commandments, He chose to put worshipping Him and avoiding idolatry as the first and second foundational commandments for Israel to observe. Exodus 20:2-6 records:  “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.” (Exodus 20: 2-6)

During His ministry, when Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, He reaffirmed the first commandment by saying: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” (Matt 22: 37-38)

On another occasion, Jesus clarified what it meant to love God by defining it in behavioral terms: ““He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father” (John 14:21).

Again, Jesus taught His disciples that professing a love of God is not enough as the price of inheriting eternal life is to do the will of God: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 7:21)

John added His witness as well when he taught: “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:4)

During His ministry, Jesus taught this doctrine on numerous occasions.  He said: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 5: 30)

After His Resurrection, when He appeared to the Nephites, Jeffrey R. Holland observed that Jesus chose to define Himself in terms of His submission to His father.  3 Nephi 11: 10-11 records the Words of Jesus:

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. And behold, I am the light and the life of the world; and I have drunk out of that bitter cup which the Father hath given me, and have glorified the Father in taking upon me the sins of the world, in the which I have suffered the will of the Father in all things from the beginning.”

The First thing that Jesus wanted the Nephites to know about Himself was that He drank the bitter cup that was given Him and submitted to the will of the Father in all things. Jesus, who we are to emulate in all things, chose to emphasize deference and obedience to the Father as His primary character trait.

The author of Ecclesiastes, after much reflection, came to the same conclusion about the purpose of life: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”  (Eccl 12:13)

Section 2: Barriers to Submitting to God’s Will (Idols) 

I’d like to turn now to focusing on barriers to submitting to the will of God.  The second commandment calls these barriers “Idols.”  Idolatry is worshipping or trusting in anything other than God.  It occurs when we make anything other than following the Will of God our ultimate concern in life. That which we prioritize above God becomes our “idol.” Thus, anything can become an idol if we give it more importance than obeying the will of God.

Unfortunately, idolatry is not a sin of the past, but is just as widespread today as it has ever been.  The Lord warned the people of this dispensation in D&C Section 1: 16: “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1: 16)

Idol #1: Fame and Fortune (Reputation and Wealth)

I’d like to go over some of the more common idols that we are worshipping today.  One of the most common idols that we prioritize above God is the pursuit of fame and fortune.  This need not be on a grand scale for this to occur.  If earning 1000$ more per year becomes more important to you than obeying the will of God then riches are your idol just as much as that person seeking after millions.  Likewise if obtaining prestige with fellow church members in your ward becomes more important than following the will of God, fame has become your idol.

The story of the rich young ruler in the New Testament is a good example of a man whose idol was wealth.  The Rich young ruler had told Jesus that he had kept all the commandments and asked what more he needed to do to obtain eternal life.  Luke 18 22:24 records Jesus response:

“Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.  And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.  And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:22-24)

Trusting in and seeking after wealth and status are hallmarks of the culture that we live in.  Jesus taught his disciples:

“Therefore take no thought, saying, what shall we eat? Or, what shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt 6: 31-33)

Jesus suggested that the Gentile cultures have it backwards.  Instead of seeking wealth and status first and then devoting the leftovers to God, we should seek God first and then God will give us wealth if it is His will.  In contrast, the scriptures warn of what will happen if we seek wealth first and make it our God.

The author of Ecclesiastes, after reflecting on a long life concluded: “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”

This is confirmed through modern psychological research and is expressed in the hedonic treadmill theory.  This theory explains that when people get gain in some way it always only leads to a temporary burst of joy but has no real lasting impact on long-term happiness.  You quickly adapt to what you now have and are no longer happy until you get more in a never-ending cycle.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was partially referring to when He taught the Samaritan woman at the well: “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:  But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4: 13-14)

In other words, the things of this world can never permanently satisfy us as they lack the ability to fill us.  Jesus, on the other hand, is compared to a well of everlasting life that if we drink we will be permanently satisfied and fulfilled.

The Book of Job also reflects upon the futility and vanity of a life centered on material gain.  “For what is the hope of the hypocrite, though he hath gained, when God taketh away his soul?  Will God hear his cry when trouble cometh upon him?” (Job 27: 8-9)

Jesus similarly taught that even if you obtained all of the wealth and status in the world in the end it would not profit you anything if you made that your ultimate concern instead of submitting to the will of God.  Jesus said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matt 16:29)

Similarly, the prophet Amos condemned this idolatrous focus on wealth in ancient Israel.  He says: “Hear this, O ye that….say When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? And the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?” (Amos 8:4-5) The Sabbath and observing God’s will had become an irritant to the ancient Israelites, whose heart was set upon getting material gain.  Ask yourself, is complying with God’s will an irritant to what I really want to do?

Like the author of proverbs, we ought to conclude: “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1) or in other words “It’s better to have a little food with peace than abundance with strife.”

Idol #2: Wisdom and Philosophies of Men

The next idol that I would like to look at is trusting in the wisdom and philosophies of men.  Those who worship this idol base their life upon worldviews propagated by philosophers, professors and other men and women of prominence.  They make the pursuit of worldly knowledge their main concern in life as they put their trust in those teachings rather than in the Lord’s teachings.  Whenever gospel doctrines are found to conflict with the philosophy they put their trust in, they demand that the Lord change His doctrine to comply with the idolized philosophy.  If submitting to the will of God is our primary concern, we will cast off any philosophy that contradicts or opposes the revealed word of God.

Trusting in the philosophies of men is not something new to our dispensation.  Paul warned Timothy about trusting in science above God when he said: “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called.” (1 Tim 6:20)

Likewise, God condemned the Israelites through Jeremiah who attributed their creation and existence to idols instead of God as the Creator.  Jeremiah laments that the Israelites were: “Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me.” (Jeremiah 2:27) The same theories that were prevalent in ancient Israel are prevalent today that deny God as the creator.

Worshiping this idol also takes the form of counseling others to act in ways contrary to what church leadership has taught.  We worship modern golden calves when we counsel others to act contrary to the Lord’s teachings.

The scriptures also warn us against the consequences of worshiping this idol.  One consequence, is that God removes His influence and counsel if we reject it.  Psalm 81: 12 records: “So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.”

Isaiah warned that those who trust in their wickedness and in their own knowledge and say that God does not exist will be visited with sudden desolation. He says: “For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, none seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me.  Therefore shall evil come upon thee.” (Isaiah 47: 10-11)

And finally, this idol is given one of the strongest condemnations in all of scripture in 2 Nephi 9: 42-43:

“And whoso knocketh, to him will he open; and the wise, and the learned, and they that are rich, who are puffed up because of their learning, and their wisdom, and their riches—yea, they are they whom he despiseth; and save they shall cast these things away, and consider themselves fools before God, and come down in the depths of humility, he will not open unto them. But the things of the wise and the prudent shall be hid from them forever—yea, that happiness which is prepared for the saints.”

The antidote to this idol is given in Proverbs 3: 5-8.  “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.  Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.  It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.” (Proverbs 3: 5-8)

Idol #3: Pleasure of “Happiness”

While wealth and the philosophies of men are common idols, another common idol is that of pleasure or happiness. We worship this idol when we prioritize comfort, pleasure or what we perceive as our own happiness above obeying the will of the Lord.  In some ways, this may be the ultimate idol that so many of us are subject to.  We calculate what we think will make us happy and we make that our ultimate concern in life rather than obeying the will of God.  The irony of such a quest is that by pursuing your own happiness, you are ensuring your misery.  While denying your own short-term happiness guarantees your eternal joy.

This is what Christ mean when he taught: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) Or in other words, those who seek their own will in life lose their life while those who lose their lives in the service of the Lord gain it.

Jesus also taught us to be wary of this idol when He said “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” (Luke 4:4) Or in other words, life is about more than worrying about survival or appeasing our physical appetites but is about living by every word of God.

Peter adds his witness when he wrote: “That we no longer should live the rest of our time in the flesh to the lusts of men, but to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:2)

Jesus also warned us against loving the things of this world that satisfy the lusts and pleasures of the flesh.  “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2: 15-17)

The Story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob illustrates the dangers of this idol. Dallin H. Oaks explains: “The contrast between the spiritual and the temporal is also illustrated by the twins Esau and Jacob and their different attitudes toward their birthright. The firstborn, Esau, “despised his birthright.” (Gen. 25:34.) Jacob, the second twin, desired it. Jacob valued the spiritual, while Esau sought the things of this world. When he was hungry, Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. “Behold,” he explained, “I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Gen. 25:32.) Many Esaus have given up something of eternal value in order to satisfy a momentary hunger for the things of the world.” (“Spirituality,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 61) (jacob and esau)

Janet G. Lee expounds further: “Esau’s logic seems superficially sound, but in giving up his birthright for a single meal he becomes the poster child for sacrificing his future to the immediate needs of the body…..A million times over in a million subsequent tragedies, men have done the same thing—whether for a mess of pottage, a drink, a cigarette, one night of indulgence, one peek at pornography, or one more hit of heroine—the eternal inheritance is relinquished for a momentary pleasure. “If only we could realize that the momentary pleasure we might feel by an act of disobedience can never be equal to the feelings of peace and happiness that result from obedience.” (Janet G. Lee, New Era, Feb. 1994, 49) (Jacob and Esau)

We need to be careful because this idol is so thoroughly ingrained in our culture that it can be difficult to recognize.  An example from ancient Israelite culture during the time of Malachi illustrates the point. The men of that time had worshipped the idol of personal happiness when they had put away their wives in order to take pleasure in marrying younger women.  It was so ingrained in Israelite culture at the time that even the priests allowed this behavior.

Malachi 2: 13-17 explains the situation: “And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.  Yet ye say, wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant…Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.  For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away…therefore take heed to your spirit that ye deal not treacherously.  Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2: 13-17)

The Institute manual expounds on this episode by saying: “One of the gross sins among the ancient people of the Lord was unfaithfulness in marriage vows. Some of the Hebrew men, tiring of their wives and the mothers of their children, were seeking the companionship of younger women. The wives would come to the temple and make an appeal to God at the altar. In this unfaithfulness to marriage vows, the Lord declared, the men had dealt treacherously (see vv. 13–14). The Lord was angry with these men because they did not remain true to their wives, but He also expressed anger toward the priests for knowing the problem and not executing justice. He told the men to scrutinize their innermost feelings toward the women whom they had loved in their youth, who had borne their children, and who had loved and served them, and not to put away their wives (v. 15). For “the Lord . . . hateth putting away” (v. 16).” (Pg. 352 Institute study guide, 1 Kings-Malachi)

In order to determine whether you are worshipping the idol of pleasure or personal happiness as the ancient Israelites did, ask this question.  Am I willing to give up what I think will make me happy and drink the bitter cups of life or carry the crosses that may be ordained for me in submitting to God’s will.  If the answer is no, then you are not willing to pay the price of eternal life.

Idol #4: Body Image or Beauty

The next idol to consider is that of body image or beauty.  Worshipping this idol means that body image and beauty becomes our ultimate concern in life.  Paul wrote to timothy about this idol and counselled him to put physical health in its proper place: “For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim 4:8) Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we should neglect our health.  It simply means health and looks are not our ultimate concern in life.

Idol #5: Family

Family can also become an idol when we put those relationships above God. Jesus taught his followers that any who could not give up their family relationships to follow God are not worthy of eternal life.  “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”(Matt 10: 37-38)

Again, for the majority of people submitting to the will of God will mean more harmonious family relations.  For some, however, submitting to the will of God may mean losing family relationships.  There are some for whom joining the church meant being disowned by their family members.  However, like Christ, these faithful souls drank the bitter cup that was given them and declared “thy will be done Lord.”

We can turn to the old Testament for another example of this idol.  Eli was the high priest during the time of Samuel, and he was ultimately condemned by the Lord for honoring his sons above God.  1 Sam 2: 29 records: “Wherefore kick ye at my sacrifice and at mine offering, which I have commanded in my habitation; and honourest thy sons above me, to make yourselves fat with the chiefest of all the offerings of Israel my people?”

Eli put his sons above God, and as a result he fell.

Idol #6: Political Views/Government 

Another common idol that people put above God is government.  Many devote all of their time, talents and resources to building up certain political parties at the expense of God.  Many trust in government to be their providers and make devotion to the platform of their political party their ultimate concern.

Ancient Israel also struggled with putting their trust in earthly organizations and governments above God.  The prophet Isaiah declared to those ancient Israelites: “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1)

Worshipping this idol means that your primary allegiance is to your political party, philosophy or platform above the Kingdom of God.

Do we submit our political beliefs to those revealed in scripture or do we idolize the theories of men that contradict the word of God?

Idol #7: The Self

And the final idol that I would like to look at today is the idol of the self.  We worship ourselves when we trust in our own knowledge and abilities above God.  When we say, my will be done and not yours we become our own Gods.  Many make pursuing their wants and desires the ultimate goal of their life but the gospel teaches us to submit those desires to God’s will and we will one day obtain all the desires of our heart.

The Lord warned the ancient Israelites, through Isaiah, about trusting in the self: “Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.” (Isaiah 50:11)

Alma, in the Book of Mormon, observed the Zoramites who engaged essentially in worship of the self. The Zoramites worshipped in a very perverted way.  They had people go up to a raised altar and recite the same prayer one at a time.  The prayer denied Christ and boasted of their own election and how they were better than others.  After they did this weekly, they returned home and never spoke of God again until they were back at the Rameumptum.  They cried unto God with their mouths while their hearts were set upon pride and the vain things of the world.  (Alma 31)

We worship at the rameumptum when our ultimate concern becomes glorifying ourselves instead of God.

Pride is essentially worship of the self.  Pride is the elevation of the self above God and others.  Thus, pride is truly the foundation of all sin because pride involves making our ultimate concern in life the glorification of ourselves and not God.

Conclusion

I testify that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who truly restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness along with the Priesthood keys and authority to direct the work of God on this earth.

I would like to close with a challenge that we all might be like the Psalmist who declared: “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139: 23) and that we all might have the courage to examine ourselves and the idols that are holding us back from submitting to the will of God in all things.

And I leave with this message and testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Resources

Aligning with the Will of God Worksheet