How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Main Idea: Boundaries are limits that determine what we will allow into our lives and what we will keep out of our lives.  Effective boundaries are selectively permeable as boundaries that are too weak let the bad in and boundaries that are too strong keep the good out.  You can only set boundaries around things that are in your control as you must accept what you cannot change or control.  There are 10 rules you can use to help you set boundaries and avoid the myths of boundary setting. 

I. What are Boundaries? 

Boundaries define who you are by differentiating what is me and what is not me.  A failure to understand, respect and maintain proper boundaries leads to all sorts of problems that interfere with our functioning.  Problems arise when people fail to recognize what is in their control or they try to control what they don’t have control over.  An excellent book on this topic is called “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Many of the principles that I will discuss are derived from their work.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he taught them that each individual was responsible to bear his own load but was also responsible to help others with their burdens.  In Galatians 6: 2-4 we read:

“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.  But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden.” (Gal 6: 2-4)

The Greek word for burden means “excess” while the word for load means “burden of daily toil.”  Paul taught that everyone is responsible to take care of the everyday things that we all need to do.  However, when excess burdens fall upon a person then that person is entitled to help from other people.   Learning to differentiate between loads and burdens is essential to be able to function effectively in the world.  Problems arise when people act like their loads are burdens which leads to perpetual irresponsibility.  Treating our burdens as loads also leads to other problems such as perpetual pain and stress.

Without boundaries there could be no life as there would be no distinction between ideas or things.  Boundaries are everywhere but here are just a few examples for your consideration:

1. Skin: Skin serves as the boundary between the external world and our internal anatomy.  Like any boundary, skin functions to keep the good in and the bad out.  It protects your blood and bones but opens to allow food in and to excrete metabolic waste.

2. Words: Our words act as boundaries as they signal what we will allow and what we will not allow.  Many people struggle with using their words to establish boundaries but the most basic boundary setting word is “no.”  If we don’t learn to set boundaries then other people will use and abuse us.

3. Truth: Reality sets boundaries on our behaviors as natural laws lead to natural consequences.  The law of gravity puts boundaries on our upward movement and doesn’t change based on how we feel about the law.  Many people fail to recognize and respect the natural boundaries that exist in reality and try to change the consequences of their behaviors.

4. Geography:  Nature has established boundaries around what places are habitable and which are not.  Nations set boundaries by defining their borders.  You can also use physical space to set boundaries around what is permissible in areas you have control of. Paul taught the Corinthian Saints to separate themselves from those who do not keep God’s law and to establish clear boundaries. (2 Cor 6: 17)

5. Time: You can use time to set boundaries by establishing how long you will engage in or abstain from certain activities or behaviors.

6. Emotional Distance: You can choose whether to emotionally invest in something or not.  You can set boundaries by not attaching to certain people, things or outcomes.

7. Consequences: A consequence is a boundary that you have set that is implemented when certain conditions are met.  If someone begins yelling at you then you can implement the consequence of leaving the situation to communicate your boundary.

II. What is within my control?

Establishing boundaries is about recognizing what is in your control and what is not in your control.  Trying to control what you cannot control is an exercise in futility that will lead to excess suffering.  Below is a list of some of the things you have reasonable influence over:

1. Emotions:  In many cases you have long-term control over how often and in what circumstances you will experience emotions.  Nobody can “make” you feel anything as you can choose to escalate or deescalate automatic emotional responses. Your automatic emotional responses are also influenced by the habits you have ingrained in the subconscious over long periods of time.

2. Attitudes and Beliefs:  You control what you accept to be true or false and the attitude you will adopt toward certain things.  Many people with boundary problems blame other people for the feelings, beliefs and attitudes that they personally experience.

3. Behaviors:  You control how you will behave over the long-term of your life.  While momentary responses may be habitual, you are responsible for what habits you build into your character.  In Galatians 6: 7 we learn about the law of the harvest which states: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  This means that all behaviors have consequences that cannot be changed or avoided.  While you control your behavior, you do not control the inevitable consequences of that behavior.

4. Choices: You control the decisions that you make.  While you often cannot control the opportunities or threats in your environment you can choose how you will respond to them.  You can also choose between good and evil.

5.Values:You are responsible for what you choose to value and prioritize in your life.  Your values guide your choices and behaviors.

6. Limits:  You can limit how often you are around certain people.  God sets standards but lets people be who they are and then separates himself from them when they misbehave, saying “You can be that way if you choose, but you cannot come into my house.” We should separate ourselves from people who act in destructive ways (Matt 18:15‐17; 1 Cor. 5:9‐13).

7. Talents‐ While you can’t control the genetic gifts you have been given, you can choose whether to develop them or not.

8. Thoughts: While you cannot control every thought, you can control how you will respond to each thought. Do not try to suppress thoughts but instead accept them and nurture the productive ones.

III. What is not within my control? 

Boundary problems and much suffering arises when you attempt to ignore boundaries and control what is not controllable.  The following is a list of things that the scriptures tell us is not in our control:

a.) Gender: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Moses 2: 26-27)

b.) Human Nature: We cannot control the fallen nature of our bodies nor that we will be subject to afflictions, sin, temptation and evil. ( See Beliefs about Human Nature)

c.) Nature of the World: We cannot control the nature of the fallen world that we live in nor do we have power over how others will abuse their freedom.  (See Fallen nature of the world)

c.) Behaviours or Beliefs of Other People: It is not within our power to control other people’s behaviours or beliefs.  When Jesus performed His miracles, He was unable to control how others would react to them.  The people attributed His exorcisms to the power of devil, and complained that His healing miracles were done on the Sabbath day.

d.) Commandments and Laws of this world and their consequences: We cannot control the consequences for choosing good or evil.  Sin will always lead to a host of negative consequences and righteousness will always result in blessings whether we like it or not.

e.) Negotiating the terms of salvation: We are utterly powerless to save ourselves from death and hell. God is no respecter of persons and any who achieve salvation do so through obedience to unwavering law. (See Soteriology)

f.) The destiny and fate of nations: The Lord gives each nation their inheritance and sets their boundaries.

  • “When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” (Deut 32:8)
  • The Lord ultimately controls who is in charge: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

g.) Moral Agency of others: Whether one accepts the Gospel or not is out of our control. See the Parable of the Growing Seed.

h.) The bounds and parameters of our lives. God determines the lengths of our lives and death is certain: “Seeing his days are determined, the number of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” (Job 14:5)

i.) Genetics and the limitations of our bodies: None of us can control the genes we have inherited nor the expression of those genes in terms of our personality, health, appearance, weight, height, etc…  “

  • We are as clay and God is like a potter who molds clay in His hand: “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

j.) The will of God: Ultimately, the will of God will be done and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  Herod tried in vain to kill Jesus and went so far as to execute every child in the region.  However, his bounds were set and he could not pass.  Jesus was protected by Angels. (From Nativity of Jesus)

k.) Our Foreordained life missions: Those in the church are foreordained to holy callings before they were born: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” (2 Tim 1:9)

  • Jonah could not escape the consequences of fleeing his life mission. (Book of Jonah)

l.) The natural laws of the system within which we exist: God gives to all intelligence truth within which they are free to act, otherwise there is no existence: “All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.” (D&C 93: 30)

  • We all must have bounds placed upon the spheres within which we live otherwise chaos results. Men have different bounds placed on them compared to beasts or even the elements of the earth.

IV. Boundary Problems

Fundamentally, boundaries allow you to keep the good in and the bad out.  When you don’t have effective boundaries, you keep the good from coming into your life and welcome the bad to stay.  Cloud and Townsend observed that people tend to adopt a typical boundary style that will be outlined below.

1. Compliant: People who are compliant have a hard time saying no and say yes to the bad things that are harmful. Compliant people have boundaries that are too permeable.  These people often comply out of fear and not out of love.  They fear hurting other people, being abandoned, making others angry, being seen as selfish or experiencing guilt.  As a result, these people become dependent on other people.

2.  Avoidant: People who are avoidant have rigid boundaries and often say no to the good things in life.  They have trouble asking for help, recognizing the needs of others and letting people in.  Avoidant people tend to withdraw when in need and do not find support.

3. Compliant Avoidant: These people have reversed boundaries as they both keep the bad in and the good out.  They erect boundaries where they shouldn’t and they fail to create boundaries where they should.

4. Controller:  Controller’s are people who cannot respect other people’s boundaries and attempt to ignore them. These people are experienced as bullies, manipulators and aggressors.  Taken to the extreme, these types of people can become physically and verbally abusive.  Manipulative controllers try to talk people out of their boundaries using guilt messages.  Controller’s typically have poor frustration tolerance and lack the ability to delay gratification.  Controllers believe they are entitled to other people’s labor

5. Non-Responsive:  People who are nonresponsive do not pay attention to the needs of others and their own responsibilities to them.

Ultimately, it is difficult to set good boundaries when you do not have secure attachments to people who show you unconditional love.  Setting limits on people that don’t respect your boundaries creates the risk that you will lose the relationship.  However, to not set boundaries is to forever remain a prisoner to the other person’s desires.

V. The Ten Laws of Boundary Setting

1. Law of Sowing and Reaping: This is the basic law of cause and effect which states that for every action there is a consequence.  Boundary problems arise when others step in to try and rescue a person from the natural consequences of their actions.  The rescuer becomes an “enabler” who bears the consequences of the persons actions preventing the person from seeing the full consequences of his actions.  Proverbs teaches us to confront people when they are irresponsible. (Prov 9: 8)

2. The Law of Responsibility‐We are each responsible for ourselves and not for anyone else.  However, we are responsible to show love to other people helping with their burdens and limiting sin. (Prov 19:19)

3. The Law of Power: The Serenity prayer is a prayer to clarify boundaries. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” You cannot change others but you can influence them and you can change yourself so that you aren’t manipulated by the destructive behaviors of others.  While your power is limited, you have the power to submit to God who can exercise all power on your behalf.

4. The Law of Respect: You are responsible for respecting the boundaries that other people set and not judging them according to how you would set boundaries.  You need to accept the freedom that other people have and not get angry or make the feel guilty or unloved for setting boundaries.

5. The Law of Motivation: When you decide to relax your boundaries and give it should be done out of love and not fear.  Common motivations for giving include: getting love, avoiding anger, avoiding loneliness, avoiding guilt or gaining approval.  If your giving does not produce joy then you need to examine your motives for giving.

6. The Law of Evaluation: You need to constantly be evaluating the effects that your boundaries are having in your life and make modifications when necessary.  Sometimes things that seem good (junk food) are really harming you and sometimes things that seem hard are for your benefit.  Judge everything by the long-term effect it has on your life.

7. The Law of Proactivity: This law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Proactive people are known by what they love and strive for while reactive people are known by what they hate and stand against.  You need to learn how to proactively strive for good things instead of reacting against things you dislike.

8. The Law of Envy:  When you are envious you are defining what other people have as “good” and denying the good that you currently have.  Envy guarantees that you will never be happy as other people will always have things that you do not have.  Envy focuses outside of your own boundaries into the boundaries of others and on what you cannot control.  Envy can be a sign to you that you are lacking something so you can consider if there is a healthy way for you to obtain it and if it is truly necessary.

9. The Law of Activity: Boundary problems can arise from a lack of initiative and a passive lifestyle. The parable of the talents teaches us to be proactive and assertive instead of reactive and passive. You should be actively trying and failing, as this is simply learning, instead of not trying at all which will ensure your  boundaries are either too rigid or too permeable.

10. The Law of Exposure: You need to communicate and make your boundaries visible to other people instead of setting secret boundaries that you try to passive-aggressively reinforce.   If you are feeling resentful then that is a sign that one of your boundaries has been crossed and you need to communicate to the other person before bitterness consumes you.

VI. Boundary Myths

1. If I set boundaries, I’m being selfish: Appropriate boundaries will actually increase your capacity to care for others in the long-term.  Poor boundaries leads to resentment, fatigue and burnout which is costly to those we love.

2. If I begin setting boundaries, I will be hurt by others: Others who truly love you will respect your boundaries while those who are are using you as a tool for their own gain will not. If you do lose a relationship because of setting boundaries then the cost of that relationship was your entire identity and soul.

3. If I set boundaries, I will hurt others:  You aren’t responsible for meeting every need that other people have.  God has no problem telling us no so we should not feel guilty about setting reasonable boundaries with others.  If saying no to another person leads to devastation, you may have an idolatrous relationship with that person as only God should be indispensable in your life.  Once you can’t say no to somebody, you have given them complete control over your life.

4. If I set boundaries, I will feel guilty:  Sometimes people do favors for us so we feel obligated not to say no.  However, if the person feels angry when you say no they are giving you loans and not gifts.  If someone gives you something and gratitude is all they seek then they have given you a gift.

5. Reactively setting boundaries is healthy:  It is best to try and respond to boundary breaking instead of reacting to it.  When you react you automatically behave in a way that suggests the other person is in control of you.  When you respond, you take time to think before acting and are truly in control.

6. I can control the boundaries of other people:  Healthy boundaries are about yourself and not another person.  Even when asking others to respect your boundaries you are saying what you will do and not what the other person must do when a boundary is broken.  Boundaries without consequences are not boundaries. You must decide if you are willing to enforce the consequences before you set the boundaries.

7. Passive boundaries are effective:  Passive boundaries include withdrawing, triangulating, whining, having affairs or any other passive-aggressive behavior.  These behaviors are all destructive and never lead to increased intimacy.

8. Forgiveness means not setting boundaries: Forgiveness is about setting boundaries on your bitterness towards someone else and is not to be conflated with reconciliation.  When you forgive you let go of your own hatred and stop seeking vengeance against those who have wronged you. However, this doesn’t mean you continue a relationship, immediately trust the other person or condone what the person did.

 

Embracing Your Imperfections

Main idea: Weaknesses are given to us by God to teach us to be humble and to rely on Him which makes us stronger in the long-term. We should accept that we are all flawed and trust in Jesus Christ instead of our own abilities. While God commands us to be perfect, it will only happen through an endowment of grace in the next life if we do our best to follow Jesus Christ in this life.

I. The Purposes of Weakness

The “human condition” is a term that philosophers and theologians use to discuss the fundamental nature and experience of human beings.  One of the most obvious characteristics of people is that they are flawed, weak and imperfect.  Everybody has to come to terms with their weaknesses and either accept or deny that they exist and to determine what they signify.  Many people deny that they have weaknesses as a psychological defense mechanism.  Others try to compensate for their weaknesses by striving for superiority over others. The Apostle Paul and the Prophet Moroni were both given revelations concerning the importance of weaknesses.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he explains that he suffered from a “thorn in the flesh” or a weakness that he had asked God to remove three times. This is the Lord’s response to Paul:

“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10)

In the Book of Mormon, the Lord reveals some of the same principles to the prophet Moroni.  Moroni believed that he was a weak writer and  that the Gentiles would mock him for it and that out of his weakness others would suffer. This is the Lord’s response to these worries:  “And when I had said this, the Lord Spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; 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.” (Ether 12:26-27)

From these scriptures, we can determine some of the main purposes of weakness that include:

A.) God-given: The Lord taught both Paul  and Moroni that He gives men weaknesses and that He does not remove them to fulfill His own purposes. The Lord makes clear that weaknesses are given to us for our ultimate long-term good.

B.) Humility: The Lord taught Paul that his weakness forced him to rely upon God which allowed the power of Christ to come upon Him.  Similarly, the Lord taught Moroni that weaknesses are given to us so that we will be humble.

C.) Leads us to God: Moroni and Paul both learned that because they had weaknesses, they had to rely upon God for strength.  Our weaknesses are thus calculated to lead us to God.

D.) God will make our weaknesses strong: Our weaknesses exist to ultimately make us strong as they prompt us to rely on God who promises to turn our weaknesses into strengths.

E.) God’s grace is sufficient: Like Paul, many of us worry about the consequences of our weaknesses both on ourselves and other people.  However, God reassured both Paul and Moroni that His grace would wash away the consequences that their weaknesses had on other people as His “grace is sufficient.”  This means we simply need to do our best with what God has given us and then His grace makes up for whatever we lack.

Another possible benefit of our weaknesses is that they may define the boundaries of our life mission.  If we didn’t have weaknesses we might not fulfill our preordained life missions as we would pursuit other interests that we weren’t intended to. Weaknesses serve to highlight our strengths and talents which are signals to our life purpose.  In D&C 5:4 the Lord taught Joseph Smith that he was given the gift of translation and would not be given any other gift until he translated the plates.

The text reads: “And you have a gift to translate the plates; and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.” (D&C 5:4)

In D&C 24: 9 the Lord repeats this principle and tells Joseph that he was weak in temporal labors so that he would focus on his true calling.  The Lord said: “And in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling. Attend to thy calling and thou shalt have wherewith to magnify thine office, and to expound all scriptures, and continue in laying on of the hands and confirming the churches.” (D&C 24:9)

II. God Favors the Weak

The scriptures teach us that God chooses the weak and simple of this earth who are often overlooked and rejected to accomplish His work. God knows weaknesses are a good thing and looks for those who are made humble by them.  Spencer J. Condie taught that God often chooses those who are weak in certain areas to become strong in them.  He said:

“Some of God’s choicest servants-Enoch, Moses, and Elijah-were slow of speech. While a radiant countenance and eloquent speech are desirable qualities in preaching the gospel, it is the Holy Ghost, not the sentence structure, which begets conversion.” (Spencer J. Condie- Ensign, Oct. 1980, 34)

God is able to use the weak because they are more likely to come unto Him.  In D&C 1: 19 the Lord says: “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh.” (D&C 1:19)

In D&C 35: 13 the Lord further declares:“Wherefore, I call upon the weak things of the world, those who are unlearned and despised, to thresh the nations by the power of my Spirit.” (D&C 35:13)

We can also learn about how we should respond to our weaknesses by examining the differing responses that Moses and Enoch had. Enoch and Moses were both called of God to be His spokesman and both were described as doubting their ability to do so and being “slow of speech.”  Enoch, in the end, trusted that the Lord could make up for his weakness and as a result he became mighty in speech.  However, Moses did not have the faith or confidence and instead asked that God send Aaron instead.  Moses never became mighty in speech, as a result.  The lesson here is that faith and confidence can turn our weaknesses into strengths while doubting the Lord’s ability can make us lose out on blessings.  (Exodus 3-4; Moses 6-7)

III. Relating to Your Weaknesses

You can either relate to your weaknesses and interpret them through a spiritual or a temporal view.  The temporal view is inspired by the philosophies of men or even by the temptations of the devil.  The Spiritual view is the way that God would have us interpret our weaknesses.

In the temporal view, weaknesses are a fatal flaw that will destroy you.  They are humiliating, lead to despair and have no real benefits.  The world teaches us to ignore God’s grace and rely totally upon our own strengths in order to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

In the spiritual view, weaknesses are seen as gifts from God that are designed to make us humble and ultimately lead us to God.  The scriptures teach us to rejoice in our weaknesses and to let God turn them into strengths.  In this worldview, we trust that God’s grace makes up for the effects of our weaknesses on others.

Spiritual View Temporal View
Weaknesses are given to us by God. Weaknesses are a fatal flaw that will destroy you.
Make us Humble. Are humiliating.
Lead us to God. Lead us to despair.
Rejoice in them as God turns them into strengths. Ignores the benefits and lessons of our weaknesses.
God’s grace makes up for effects of weakness. Ignores God’s grace and relies totally upon self.

IV. Am I Good Enough? 

While God promises to endow us with grace to make up for our weaknesses He does require that we come unto Him first.  This can cause a lot of anxiety as many people struggle with answering the question: “Am I good enough to warrant the grace of God?”  In an October 2016 General Conference Address,  Elder J. Devn Cornish gives a great response to this question.  I will briefly summarize the principles he outlines below.

Elder Cornish begins by reminding us that none of us are “good enough.”  Nobody can earn or deserve salvation but it is crucial to know if our efforts are acceptable before the Lord.  Elder Cornish promises that you will make it if you sincerely try.  He says:

“Let me be direct and clear. The answers to the questions “Am I good enough?” and “Will I make it?” are “Yes! You are going to be good enough” and “Yes, you are going to make it as long as you keep repenting and do not rationalize or rebel.”

“The God of heaven is not a heartless referee looking for any excuse to throw us out of the game. He is our perfectly loving Father, who yearns more than anything else to have all of His children come back home and live with Him as families forever.”

“I love the way President Gordon B. Hinckley used to teach this principle. I heard him say on several occasions, “Brothers and sisters, all the Lord expects of us is to try, but you have to really try!” “Really trying” means doing the best we can, recognizing where we need to improve, and then trying again. By repeatedly doing this, we come closer and closer to the Lord, we feel His Spirit more and more, and we receive more of His grace, or help.”

Similarly, the Apostle Dale G. Renlund taught: “A saint is a sinner who keeps on trying… In less formal terms, God cares a lot more about who we are and who we are becoming than about who we once were.  He cares that we keep on trying….If we don’t try, we’re just latter-day sinners; if we don’t persevere, we’re latter-day quitters; and if we don’t allow others to try, we’re just latter-day hypocrites. As we try, persevere, and help others to do the same, we are true Latter-day Saints.” (Dale G. Renlund – Latter Day Saints Keep on Trying)

After you keep on sincerely trying, God’s grace will become active in your life and is sufficient to make you “good enough.”  Elder Cornish teaches:

“It is … through the grace of the Lord that individuals … receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to [do]. … This grace is an enabling power… or heavenly help each of us desperately needs to qualify for the celestial kingdom.” All we have to do to receive this heavenly help is to ask for it and then to act on the righteous promptings we receive.”

V. Barriers to Grace

While God’s grace is sufficient to make up for what we lack there are certain barriers that will prevent us from accessing his grace.  Elder Cornish warns us that comparing ourselves to others is a destructive tendency.  There are simply too many variables that you cannot control for to make any real meaningful comparisons.  President Boyd K. Packer taught: “The only competition in life is with our former selves.” Comparing how you are today to how you were yesterday is a much more achievable and meaningful exercise than comparing yourself to others.

Another barrier to obtaining God’s grace is relying too heavily on our own opinions or on the opinions of others.  Just as you can’t know all of the idiosyncratic variables that constitute a person’s life, they also cannot know enough about you to make informed judgments.  The only opinion about you that should matter is what your Heavenly Father thinks of you because He is the only one who knows everything about you.  This is why Joseph Smith taught:

“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)

Three further barriers to grace that Elder Cornish mentions are: Sin, Rationalization and Rebellion.

1. Sin: When we sin we separate ourselves from God and are doomed to suffer both physical and spiritual death.  However, repentance is the gift granted to us that enables us to be forgiven of our sins and to gain access to God’s grace.  Moroni taught “But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” (Moroni 6: 8)

2. Rationalizing: Rationalizing is the opposite of reasoning and occurs when we start with a conclusion and then work backwards to try and justify that conclusion. When we rationalize our sins, we start with the conclusion that “My sinful behavior is okay” and then generate reasons to justify the conclusion.  Elder Cornish warns us not to do this and says: “What we cannot do is rationalize rather than repent. It will not work to justify ourselves in our sins by saying, “God knows it’s just too hard for me, so He accepts me like I am.” “Really trying” means we keep at it as we fully come up to the Lord’s standard.”

3. Rebellion: And finally, the last barrier to grace is open rebellion against God.  Elder Cornish teaches: “From the book of Moses, we learn that Satan was cast out of heaven for rebellion. We are in rebellion any time we say in our hearts, “I don’t need God, and I don’t have to repent.”

VI. Seeking Perfection

While it’s true that God gave us weaknesses, He has also commanded us to become perfect.  This tension between accepting one’s weaknesses and working to overcome them is something we all need to learn how to balance.  Many people despair and give up hope when they see that God has commanded us to be perfect but Elder Jeffrey R. Holland addressed this commandment in a General Conference address in October 2017.

Elder Holland acknowledges that the scriptures remind us that we are falling short of Celestial Law.  The Sermon on the mount even concludes with this commandment: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father … in heaven is perfect.” (Matt 5: 48) Taken out of context, this scripture can cause us to despair and to give up hope that we will ever be good enough.  However, Nephi taught us that God does not give commandments that we do not have the power to keep. (1 Nephi 3: 7) Through the grace of God and through constant repenting and effort we can eventually become like God Himself.

Elder Holland warns us not to become toxic perfectionists or to attempt to shame ourselves into improvement.  He says: ” I also know that, as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem.”

Elder Holland further explains that when Jesus gave us the commandment to be perfect,  He was  paying tribute to God’s perfection and not giving us an impossible commandment to fulfill. He says:

” To put this issue in context, may I remind all of us that we live in a fallen world and for now we are a fallen people. We are in the telestial kingdom; that is spelled with a t, not a c. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, here in mortality perfection is still “pending.”

So I believe that Jesus did not intend His sermon on this subject to be a verbal hammer for battering us about our shortcomings. No, I believe He intended it to be a tribute to who and what God the Eternal Father is and what we can achieve with Him in eternity. In any case, I am grateful to know that in spite of my imperfections, at least God is perfect—that at least He is, for example, able to love His enemies, because too often, due to the “natural man” and woman in us, you and I are sometimes that enemy. How grateful I am that at least God can bless those who despitefully use Him because, without wanting or intending to do so, we all despitefully use Him sometimes. I am grateful that God is merciful and a peacemaker because I need mercy and the world needs peace.”

VI. Perfection as a Gift of God

While we trust in the merits of Christ, Elder Holland warns us not to use those merits to justify our own sinful behavior.  Paul taught the Ephesians that one of the purposes of the gospel was: “For the perfecting of the saints, … till we … come … unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Perfection has always been the goal of the church but this perfection is never truly earned but is a gift from God that will be bestowed upon us in the next life.  The Prophet Moroni taught: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him … Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.

Elder Holland continues: ” Our only hope for true perfection is in receiving it as a gift from heaven—we can’t “earn” it. Thus, the grace of Christ offers us not only salvation from sorrow and sin and death but also salvation from our own persistent self-criticism.”

While God-like perfection cannot be achieved in this life, we can learn to become more perfect tomorrow than we are today.  Elder Holland uses the parable of the unmerciful servant to demonstrate this point.  He says: “

A servant was in debt to his king for the amount of 10,000 talents. Hearing the servant’s plea for patience and mercy, “the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and … forgave … the debt.” But then that same servant would not forgive a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence. On hearing this, the king lamented to the one he had forgiven, “Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?”1

If the smaller, unforgiven 100-pence debt were $100 in current times, then the 10,000-talent debt so freely forgiven would have approached $1 billion—or more! As a personal debt, that is an astronomical number—totally beyond our comprehension…That is because this isn’t a story about two servants arguing in the New Testament. It is a story about us, the fallen human family—mortal debtors, transgressors, and prisoners all. Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is “moved with compassion toward us.”

Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.”

Since we are all striving for perfection, but none of us actually achieves perfection, in one sense we are all hypocrites.  However, Elder Holland suggests that striving for improvement while falling short does not make us hypocrites but human. He promises that  If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.” The promise that we will be perfected will be fulfilled in the afterlife and not in this life.

Resources

Jeffrey R. Holland-Be Ye Therefore Perfect..Eventually

Developing Our Gifts and Talents

Main Idea: Everyone is given talents and abilities that are gifts from God and we all have a responsibility to develop and use those gifts for good. Nobody is given every gift so that we might remain humble and learn to rely on each other.  We should not boast in our worship our gifts but if we do not develop them then they are taken away from us. 

I.  Every human being is given gifts and talents from God

The scriptures teach us that God gives every person a set of gifts or talents and that everybody has something to contribute. We are all given some spiritual gifts but few people are given every gift. The Apostle Paul lists some common gifts of the spirit in his letter to the Corinthians:

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Cor 12: 4-10)

Moroni teaches the same principles in the Book of Mormon:

For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom;  And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles;  And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things;  And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits; And again, to another, all kinds of tongues; And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues. And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will.”  (Moroni 10: 9-17)

The following is a list of Gifts that are mentioned in the scriptures:

1. The Gift of Tongues –This is the ability to speak in foreign languages to teach others the gospel but is usually only temporarily given. (1 Cor 12)

2. The Gift of Interpretation of Tongues – This refers to the ability to understand a foreign language when hearing the gospel. (1 Cor 12)

3. The Gift of Translation- This refers to the ability to translate the words of God.  (D&C 8)

4. The Gift of Wisdom- This is the ability to apply knowledge in order to obtain the best possible outcomes. (1 Cor 12)

5. The Gift of Knowledge- This is the gift of knowing God and his laws as revealed by the Spirit. (1 Cor 12)

6. The Gift of Teaching Wisdom and Knowledge- Some people have the ability to explain and testify truths of the Gospel.  Nephi taught that “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.”  It is the Holy Ghost that teaches. (2 Nephi 33:1)

7. The Gift of Knowing Jesus Christ is the Son of God (Faith) – A testimony of Jesus Christ is ultimately a gift of the spirit that some people are given.  In the D&C we read: “To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.” (D&C 46: 13)  Ultimately, faith in Jesus Christ is a gift bestowed by the Spirit on those who have prepared themselves to receive it.

8. The Gift of believing the testimony of others – This is the gift of believing the messengers of God when they speak on His behalf.  In the D&C we read: “To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.” (D&C 46: 14)

9. The Gift of Prophecy- This gift involves receiving revelations about the past, present or future for ourselves and those under our stewardship. You will not receive revelation for all of mankind or church leaders. (D&C 46: 22)

” As we read in the Book of Revelation, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19:10.)This means that all who have a testimony of Jesus Christ have the gift of prophecy. The Prophet Joseph Smith relied on this scripture in teaching that “every other man who has the testimony of Jesus” is a prophet. (Teachings, p. 119.) Similarly, the Apostle Paul states that “he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1 Cor. 14:3.) Thus, in the sense used in speaking of spiritual gifts, a prophet is one who testifies of Jesus Christ, teaches God’s word, and exhorts God’s people. In its scriptural sense, to prophesy means much more than to predict the future.” (Dallin H. Oaks-Gifts of the Spirit)

10. The Gift of Healing- Some people are able to heal others or have faith to be healed themselves.  (D&C 46: 19-20)

11. The Gift of Working Miracles – God gifts the gift of working miracles to some people as they receive grace that others might label “luck” or “fortune.”  However, this gift is often reserved for the very faithful.  In 3 Nephi 8: 1 we read: And there was not any man who could do a miracle in the name of Jesus save he were cleansed every whit from his iniquity.” (3 Nephi 8:1)

12. The Desire to do Good – Some people are blessed with an innate desire to do what is right.  Henry B. Eyring taught that as we are converted we are given this gift: “It is not surprising that when we feel the influence of the Holy Ghost, we also can feel that our natures are being changed because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We feel an increased desire to keep His commandments, to do good, and to deal justly.” (Gifts of the Spirit for Hard times- Henry B. Eyring)

13. The Ministering of Angels – Some people are able to recognize and receive the ministering of angels.  President Dallin H. Oaks taught: “Moroni speaks of the spiritual gift of “beholding of angels and ministering spirits.” (Moro. 10:14.)  Mary had such an experience when she was visited by the angel who told her that she was to become the mother of the Son of God. (See Luke 1:26–38.) (Gifts of the Spirit-Dallin H. Oaks)

14. The Tongue of Angels: Nephi teaches us that when we receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost we can then speak with the Tongue of Angels and shout praises to God.  The same power that gives utterance to Angels can now give utterance to you.  (2 Nephi 31:13)

15. Confounding Evil: In the story of Jacob and the anti-Christ Sherem, we see that Jacob was given the power to confound Sherem by the power of the Holy Ghost.  Jesus also promised His disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them the words to confound their opposition: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12: 11-12)

16. The Gift of Seership: The scriptures declare that a seer is greater than a prophet.  In the Book of Mosiah, Ammon explains that King Benjamin is a seer and can translate any ancient record through the gift of God.  To be a seer is a great responsibility because one might learn very important information through translating that one cannot share.  Seers make known unto the people things that are unknowable. (Mosiah 8:15-17)

17. The Gift of love:  Some people are filled with a love for others so deep that they cannot bear the thought of seeing them suffer.  The sons of Mosiah had this love and it was described in the book of Mosiah: “Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.” (Mosiah 28:3)

Moroni taught that love is a gift that is given to all of the true followers of Jesus Christ: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.” (Moroni 7: 48)

18. The Gift of Dreams: Many people commune with God through dreams and others are given the ability to interpret those dreams.  Joseph of Egypt had such a gift and he used it to help pharaoh interpet his dreams.  Joseph declared:  “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me them, I pray you…” (Gen. 40:8)

19. The Gift of Strength:  Samson was given the gift of miraculous strength by God in order to help his people.  The Book of Judges records:  “And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done.” (Judges 14:6)

20. The Gift of Discernment: Some people are given the capacity to discern between truth and falsehood, prophets and anti-Christs.  “And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal.” (D&C 46: 16)

21. The Gift of Administration: Some church leaders are given the gift of administration or the ability to know how to distribute the keys, callings and gifts of the spirit to suit unique circumstances.  “And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men.” (D&C 46: 15)

II. The Responsibility to Develop Gifts

Since we are all given gifts of the flesh and of the spirit, God expects us to develop those gifts and to use them for the betterment of all. However, it takes time to develop these gifts as we all have a season of tutoring and learning before our talents and abilities can be recognized and developed. It is important not to judge your talents prematurely as there is a season to develop and nurture them. Paul taught the Galatians:

“Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” (Gal 4: 1-2)

The Parable of the talents was a story that Jesus told in order to illustrate the importance of developing and using our gifts.  In the parable, a master gave three different servants some money: to one he gave 5 talents, to another 2 and to another 1. The master went away, expecting them the servants to take what he had given them and to increase it. When he returned, two of the servants were wise stewards and increased what was given them.  One did not and thus he lost the talent that was given him and it was given to the fruitful.

In the same way, we are accountable to God for the talents and abilities He has given us and we will need to make an account of how we used them when He returns.  If we have used them to increase and uplift others we will be rewarded but if we have hid our talents and resources then we will lose them.  To some are given more “talents” and thus more is expected of them but if we increase what God has given us He will reward us. (Matt 25: 14-30)

The story of Samson warns us against developing our gifts and then using them for our own gain and not the glory of god.   Samson was given a great gift but he used that gift for evil and to satisfy his own will.  As a result, he lost his gift and was ultimately killed.  If we place our own desires ahead of the Lord’s will, then we will not reach our divine potential.   (Judges 13-16)

As Paul counselled Timothy, we should not neglect the gifts or talents God has given us but use them to edify all: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. ” (1 Tim 4:14-15)

We all have different gifts but together form a whole body as God designed the human family to be part of a puzzle that is only whole when all come together. We are not given every gift and ability, and this is by design, so that we learn to rely upon each other and become united.  Paul taught this principle to the Romans when he said:

“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.  Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12: 5-8)

If we fail to use the gifts that God has given us to build up those around us then God will redistribute those gifts to other people so that His purposes might be fulfilled and all will benefit. Instead of being slothful, Paul encourages us to adopt an attitude of coveting the bets spiritual gifts.  He says:“But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12:31).

III. Trusting in God instead of our Gifts

While God truly gives many people incredible gifts, it is important to remain humble and to recognize the source of those gifts.  Ultimately, a gift is not earned and is given out of love or grace so we should not boast.  The Prophet Jeremiah taught:

“Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9: 23-24)

Paul reminded the people, in his sermon on Mars Hill, that we live and move and owe our existence to God.   All of our talents and abilities are simply gifts from God so none of us should boast or compare. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.” (Acts 17: 28)

The Psalmist similarly testified that he would not trust in his own abilities but rely on the Lord instead.  Psalms 44: 6-7 records: “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me. But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.” (Psalms 44: 6-7)

Trusting in the Lord, and not our own strength, makes all things possible. The scriptures declare that None of us can do anything without Christ but through Christ, we can do anything.  Jesus taught: 

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing…If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:5-8)

Paul expressed his faith in this principle when he declared to the Philippians: ““I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Phil 4:13)

It was this faith and knowledge that allowed David to courageously defeat what should have been an impossible foe.  David demonstrated that being armed with the spirit of God is greater than any weapon that man can form:  In 1 Sam 17: 45  David’s courageous faith is recorded: “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.” (1 Sam 17:45)

Ultimately, the Lord delivers us from that which is too difficult for us. There will be many things that are too hard for us to accomplish alone, but God will give us grace to accomplish what is truly necessary for our lives. The Psalmist testified of this truth when he wrote: “He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.” (Psalms 18:17)

IV. Losing our Gifts

As the parable of the talents teaches, if we do not use our gifts then God will eventually take them away and give them to other people.  In D&C 60: 2-3 the Lord admonishes some of His saints who have been slothful in developing and using their gifts.  He says:

“But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man. Wo unto such, for mine danger is kindled against them. And it shall come to pass, if they are not more faithful unto me, it shall be taken away, even that which they have.” (D&C 60: 2-3)

On another occasion the Lord told his modern saints: “Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known.” (D&C 60:13)

It is important that we use our gifts so that all may benefit and so that we may become the whole body of Christ when joined together.  We all have different gifts that together form a whole just as a body has different parts that together form a whole. The Apostle  Paul says that an eye, whose role is to see, should not compare itself to an ear, whose role is to hear. In the same way, we can’t compare our gifts to others because we are all given different roles to fulfill in order to form a whole body.

“But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. 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.” (1 Cor 12: 18-21)

If you do not develop and use your gifts then the whole community suffers as a result of a missing body part.  If your gift was to see but you did not use it to to benefit others then the whole community can become blind.  This is why your gifts come with such great responsibility and why you lose those gifts if you do not use them.  We should all stand in the callings we have been given so that there may be a whole system that functions perfectly:

“Therefore, let every man stand in his own office, and labor in his own calling; and let not the head say unto the feet it hath no need of the feet; for without the feet how shall the body be able to stand? Also the body hath need of every member, that all may be edified together, that the system may be kept perfect.” (D&C 84: 109-110)

IV. Unhelpful Beliefs about Gifts

The beliefs laid out in the scriptures about gifts and talents is narrow and defined.  Jesus taught: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7: 14) Adopting the biblical view of gifts and talents will lead to the most optimal outcomes both for yourself and society.

However, there are near infinite other ways to view your gifts that will lead to sub-optimal outcomes.  Jesus also taught that there are numerous other beliefs we could adopt that would not lead us towards our highest potential.  He said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” (Matt 7: 13)

The following is a list of some of the most common beliefs that undermine the biblical identity outlined in scripture:

i.) Any belief that does not recognize God as the source of our abilities, achievements and successes: “I have achieved everything myself.” “My talents, riches or strength proves that I am better than others.”

ii.) Any belief that we don’t need God to accomplish things: “I should be able to accomplish anything myself.” “I can do anything.”

iii.) Any belief that denies the power of God to help us accomplish anything: “I am inadequate and destined to fail.” “I am fundamentally flawed.” “The grace of God can’t help me.” “The Grace of God doesn’t exist.”

iv.) Any belief that does not recognise the need for a time to nurture and develop ourselves. “I should automatically know and be good at lots of things.” “I shouldn’t need to study and practice to improve my talents.”

v.) Any belief that denies the importance of using our gifts and talents to uplift others: “I have nothing to contribute to others.” “It doesn’t matter if I use my gifts or not to help others.” “I have no obligation to contribute.” “I will not be held accountable for how I use my gifts.”

vi.) Any belief that says we should have certain gifts or talents: “I should be able to do what this other person is doing.” “I shouldn’t need anybody else but should be totally self-reliant.” “We are all not designed to form a whole together.”

vii.) Any belief that denies the existence of spiritual gifts: “Gifts of the Spirit don’t exist or don’t matter much.” “I should have all of the gifts of the spirit.”

The Biblical Foundations of Identity

Main idea: You are a child of God who was made in the image of God and you belong to the human family.  Your gender is an essential part of your identity as is the preordained role you play in your family.  This earth was created for you to rule over and you are valued more than anything else in this world by God. Your body is sacred and should be treated with respect as you have the capacity to become like God Himself.  When you join the church, you adopt a Christ-like identity and begin to reflect His image to the world.  What you continually hear and look upon determines which identity you adopt so be careful because there are numerous identities that you can adopt that will result in poor life outcomes. 

I. Made in the Image of God 

One of the most important things that the scriptures teach us is who we are and what we may become. This is one of the first truths declared in the Book of Genesis which says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Genesis 1:27)

Similarly, God declared the same thing to the Brother of Jared in a vision recorded in The Book of Ether.  It says: “And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.“ (Ether 3: 15)

The Apostle Paul taught that since we are the offspring of God we can know what God looks like.  He warns the people against assuming that God looks like the graven images and appearances imagined up by man.  Acts 17: 28-29 says:

“For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, for we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.” (Acts 17: 28-29)

Not only did God create your body, but He also created your spirit.  In the Book of Zechariah it is written: “The burden of the word of the Lord for Israel, saith the Lord, which stretcheth forth the heavens, and layeth the foundation of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man within him.” (Zechariah 12:1)

II. Gender and Family

Another fundamental aspect of your identity is your sex or gender.  This is not a social construction but is instead an intrinsic part of who you are.  God created the sexes as complementary parts that together would make a whole.  Paul taught:

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 11: 11)

Understanding and embracing your preordained gender role is essential in order to live a fulfilling life.  Along with your gender role, God has ordained that you are to fulfill certain familial roles and obligations.  One of the primary obligations is to create a family yourself and to help aid in the process of creation:

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

III. Stewards of Creation

 God also created you to be a steward over the earth and to rule over it in righteousness.  You are the reason this earth was created and you are more important than anything else on the planet.  In Genesis 1: 28 it is written:

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

The same doctrine is repeated by the Psalmist who reveals mans place in creation:

 “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” (Psalm 8:3-6)

IV. The Sacredness of Your Body 

You  inhabit a body that was created by God to fulfill His holy purposes.  In Moses 3:7 we read: “And I, the Lord God, formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul, the first flesh, the first man also; nevertheless, all things were before created; but spiritually were they created and made according to my word.” (Moses 3: 7)

The scriptures further teach that your body is a sacred temple within which the Spirit of God can dwell.  Paul taught the Corinthians:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” (1 Cor. 3: 16-17)

V. The Human Family 

Since we are all children of  the same father and were created by the same God, we are all part of the same human family and everyone can be rightly viewed as a brother or sister. The Prophet Malachi taught:

“Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Malachi 2:10)

Malachi warned us against treating our brothers and sisters treacherously and admonished us to to view one another as part of the same family.

VI. Infinite Potential

Since God is our actual father and we are His children it only follows that we have the potential to one day be like Him.  Recognizing this truth, many prophets have called human beings potential “gods in embryo.”  When the Pharisees accused Jesus of Blasphemy for saying He was the Son of God, He responded by quoting Psalm 82:6 which says we are all gods.

“Jesus answered them, is it not written in your law, I said, ye are gods?” (John 10: 34)

“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” (Psalms 82:6)

The Apostle Paul similarly taught the Romans that we can become: “joint heirs with Christ” and receive all the Father has.  Paul says that if we suffer with Christ in this life that we will be glorified with Him in the next life.  A part of your identity is the infinite potential and power that exists within you. Romans 8: 17 records:

And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8: 17).

VII. Children of Christ

While we are all sons and daughters of God, we become the children of Christ when we join His church.  Paul taught the Galatians that when we join the church we become children and heirs of divine glory through Jesus Christ.  In Galatians 4:7 Paul says:

 “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal 4:7)

After we join the church, we take upon us the image of Christ and begin to reflect Him to the world.  As Christians, our identity begins to become one with Christ’s just as He is one with the Father. We reflect His image to the world just as He reflected the image of the Father.  Jesus taught:

“If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 14: 7)

Jesus so perfectly reflected the image of the Father that to see and know Jesus was to see and know the Father Himself.  As Christians, it is our duty to become as perfectly united with Jesus as He was with the father so that if other see and know us then they see and know both Jesus and the Father.  This was what Jesus taught us in the great intercessory prayer before His crucifixion when He said:

“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17: 20-21)

If we are faithful, Paul promises us that the Spirit of the Lord will transform us into the image of Christ.  In 2 Cor 3: 18 Paul teaches:

“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Cor. 3:18)

After joining the Church of Christ it is important that we don’t allow any worldly identity to transcend our Christian identity.  We should identify first as Christians and let no other identity be more important. Paul taught the Galatians:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3: 28)

VIII.  The Divine Economy 

In the Divine economy, God values His children more than anything else in this world.  This is the central message in several parables that Jesus gave including the parable of the lost sheep, lost coin and the prodigal son.  The central message of these parables is that God cares for every individual so much that He seeks after the individual that is lost.  God does not treat us a group of people but instead gives individualized care and attention.    These parables teach us that God is concerned about and cares for every individual and searches after every single soul that is lost.

Jesus taught that God knows the number of hairs on our head, that’s how concerned He is with our well-being.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12: 6-7)

On another occasion, Jesus taught that the soul is more valuable than all of the riches on the planet.  Jesus taught His disciples that they would be fools to sell their soul for all of the riches and everything this earth has to offer. The implication is that you are worth far more than all of the wealth of this planet.  Jesus said:

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26)

In the D&C we also learn that God calls the worth of every individual soul “great” and He has joy over every single sinner that repents.  D&C 18 10-13 records:

  “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God…And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!” (D&C 18:10, 13)

VIII. Cultivating an Identity

Ultimately,  our Identities are shaped by what we continually look upon. Jesus taught that we become defined by what we continually look upon. We control who we become by controlling what situations we put ourselves in, what we allow ourselves to look upon and what perceptions of reality we choose to take.  Jesus taught:

“The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matt 6: 22-24)

Whatever you see and hear consistently over time will enter your heart and put your life on autopilot. This is why advertisers simply repeat messages over and over because they know it ultimately changes behavior.  If you want to deliberately cultivate a Christ-like identity then you must control what you see and hear on a regular basis.

IX. Sub-optimal Identities

The identity laid out in the scriptures is narrow and defined.  Jesus taught: “Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt 7: 14) Adopting the biblical identity will lead to the most optimal outcomes both for yourself and society.

However, there are near infinite other ways to view yourself that will lead to sub-optimal outcomes.  Jesus also taught that there are numerous other beliefs we could adopt that would not lead us towards our highest potential.  He said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” (Matt 7: 13)

The following is a list of some of the most common beliefs that undermine the biblical identity outlined in scripture:

i.) Any belief that does not recognize God as our Father and Creator: “We are all here by random chance.” “We are simply products of evolution.” “My life has no purpose.”

ii.) Any belief that distorts or confuses gender identity: “My gender is not an important part of my identity.” “Gender doesn’t matter.” “Gender is fluid.” “I can change my gender if I choose.”

iii.) Any belief that devalues your body: “My body is ugly or inherently flawed.”

iv.) Any belief that denies the spiritual part of your nature. “I’m just a random bunch of cells.” “I do not have a spirit.” “Spirituality is only for some people.”

v.) Any belief that denies that all people are part of God’s family: “That person is nothing to me.” “That group of people has no relation to me.”

vi.) Any belief that denies the importance of fulfilling family roles: “Having kids is not important.” “Starting a family isn’t for me.”

vii.) Any belief that sees the creation as more important than human beings: “Humans are a plague on the earth and shouldn’t exist.” “Animals are more important than humans.” “The earth should be worshiped.”

viii.) Any belief that diminishes your potential: “I cannot achieve very much.” “My future is hopeless.”

ix.) Any belief that prioritises any other identity above our Christian identity: “My title, status, position, job, family, achievements etc…is how I first and foremost define myself.”

x.) Any belief that denies the power we have to direct and control our destiny: “It doesn’t matter what I look upon.” “I have no power to control my future.”

xi.) Any belief that denies that you are loved: “I am unlovable.” “Nobody knows or cares about me.” “I am not worth much effort.”

xii.) Any belief that diminishes your value to anything less than priceless: “I am worthless.” “I am useless.” “I am not worth it.” “I am not good enough.”

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