Monday, August 28, 2017

The Book of Mormon: It's True and it Helps Me

I conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon our 12-year old son, Seth, earlier this month, and ordained him to the office of deacon. And within three weeks, he got his first chance to give a Sacrament Meeting talk this past Sunday! And he did a wonderful job. He wrote it himself and really nailed it. As he told me later, "33 people" said he did a great even said it was the best youth talk she'd ever heard!

So, I'd like to share it here:

Good morning. I was asked by the bishop to do a talk on why we should study the Book of Mormon. I'm pretty sure he told me to do this topic because I have read the entire Book of Mormon before I turned 12. I did this to prepare myself to receive the Aaronic Priesthood.

It was hard to get started at first, but once I got going it was kind of like a snowball, and I read faster and faster all the way through to the end. I was worried that I wouldn't finish on time, but I finished about three weeks before my birthday.

Reading the Book of Mormon regularly helped me feel closer to the Spirit. It really really did! It's impossible to explain how much it affected me. It helped me out a lot, and transformed me into something much better than I already was. It's hard to explain.

I'd like to focus on how important it is to read the Book of Mormon every day, and how it can change your life.

First, it's important because it is true.

ElderJeffrey R. Holland talked about how Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were reading the Book of Mormon when in Carthage jail, about to be murdered by a mob. They were reading it for comfort, and because it is true. Elder Holland said:

"As one of a thousand elements of my own testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon, I submit this as yet one more evidence of its truthfulness. In this their greatest—and last—hour of need, I ask you: would these men blaspheme before God by continuing to fix their lives, their honor, and their own search for eternal salvation on a book (and by implication a church and a ministry) they had fictitiously created out of whole cloth? 

Never mind that their wives are about to be widows and their children fatherless. Never mind that their little band of followers will yet be “houseless, friendless and homeless” and that their children will leave footprints of blood across frozen rivers and an untamed prairie floor. Never mind that legions will die and other legions live declaring in the four quarters of this earth that they know the Book of Mormon and the Church which espouses it to be true. Disregard all of that, and tell me whether in this hour of death these two men would enter the presence of their Eternal Judge quoting from and finding solace in a book which, if not the very word of God, would brand them as imposters and charlatans until the end of time? They would not do that! They were willing to die rather than deny the divine origin and the eternal truthfulness of the Book of Mormon."

I'm speechless.

I found out for myself that the Book of Mormon is true by reading it. Near the end, in Moroni 10:3-5 it says:

3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I actually did that right after I finished the Book of Mormon. And I heard a small voice in my head and heart shouting "YES! It is true!"

Reading this true book every day relieves stress for me. I read it mostly during the summer, but I believe that if I read it during school too, it will alleviate even more stress.

It makes you, in general, a happier person. It makes you feel better. It can help you sleep, if you have trouble getting to sleep like I do.

It made me feel more worthy for the priesthood. I felt like I didn't deserve it before, but then I did. I went from feeling like "I can't, I can't, I don't deserve it" to "I can, I can! I do deserve it!" I felt like I was more ready for the responsibility.

The Book of Mormon can change your life because it has helped me feel closer to my family, and closer to Heavenly Father. My prayers didn't used to feel very meaningful before, but now they feel a little more meaningful than they used to. I still struggle with that, but I know more scriptures will help.

There were a lot of parts of the Book of Mormon that I really liked — things that really touched my heart and that I highlighted.

For example, I really liked in Enos, when he prayed all day and received a remission of his sins.

I also really liked it in Ether chapter 12 when it talks about how faith always comes before miracles, and gives a lot of examples.

And one of my favorite passages is in 2 Nephi 4:17-35, which I'd like to quote for you now. It's kind of long:

17 Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
18 I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
19 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
20 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
21 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
22 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
23 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time.
24 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent up on high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.
25 And upon the wings of his Spirit hath my body been carried away upon exceedingly high mountains. And mine eyes have beheld great things, yea, even too great for man; therefore I was bidden that I should not write them.
26 O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?
27 And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy?
28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.
29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.
30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.
31 O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou deliver me out of the hands of mine enemies? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?
32 May the gates of hell be shut continually before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit is contrite! O Lord, wilt thou not shut the gates of thy righteousness before me, that I may walk in the path of the low valley, that I may be strict in the plain road!
33 O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness! O Lord, wilt thou make a way for mine escape before mine enemies! Wilt thou make my path straight before me! Wilt thou not place a stumbling block in my way—but that thou wouldst clear my way before me, and hedge not up my way, but the ways of mine enemy.
34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.

I bear my testimony that the scriptures WILL change your life, if you put the time and effort into reading them. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Faith: the Center of Our Lives

I had the opportunity to speak in our local elderly care home's sacrament meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was pretty special, because my parents were there, and because it was Seth's first time passing the sacrament as a newly-ordained deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood. Definitely a wonderful day.'s my talk:

Good morning brothers and sisters. I’m glad to be with you here today. My parents are in town from out of state for our son’s ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood, and I asked my mom what I should talk about today. She said FAITH.

I said, “That’s a broad topic!”

But as I started to research on this, the first principle of the gospel, I came across a number of great talks from General Conference that helped me prepare a few thoughts about faith and its power in our lives.  

ElderRichard G. Scott described faith and its power: “When faith is properly understood and used, it has dramatically far-reaching effects. Such faith can transform an individual’s life from maudlin, common everyday activities to a symphony of joy and happiness. The exercise of faith is vital to Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness. But true faith, faith unto salvation, is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ, faith in His doctrines and teachings, faith in the prophetic guidance of the Lord’s anointed, faith in the capacity to discover hidden characteristics and traits that can transform life. Truly, faith in the Savior is a principle of action and power.

Sometimes faith may seem a bit enigmatic: what exactly is it? How does one obtain it? How do you keep it and grow it? What can it really accomplish?

Like any spiritual gift, faith may be given to an individual, but unless used and nurtured and put to righteous use, it can be lost. It actually takes effort to “keep the faith.”

Elder Scott continued, “An axiom we all understand is that you get what you pay for. That is true for spiritual matters as well. You get what you pay for in obedience, in faith in Jesus Christ, in diligent application of the truths you learn. What you get is the molding of character, the growth in capacity, and the successful completion of your mortal purpose to be proven and to have joy.

Faith is not just a finite, easily-measured THING that you either possess or don’t possess. As we know from Alma 32, it can begin very small, as the mere result of a DESIRE to believe, and grow from there as it is nurtured.

In Alma 32:28, the great Book of Mormon prophet and missionary said: “Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves — It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

Elder Scott described how faith grew like a seed in his life:

“I have personally verified that concepts like faith, prayer, love, and humility hold no great significance and produce no miracles until they become a living part of us through our own experience, aided by the sweet prompting of the Holy Spirit. In early life I found that I could learn gospel teachings intellectually and, through the power of reason and analysis, recognize that they were of significant value. But their enormous power and ability to stretch me beyond the limits of my imagination and capacity did not become reality until patient, consistent practice allowed the Holy Spirit to distill and expand their meaning in my heart. I found that while I was sincerely serving others, God forged my personal character. He engendered a growing capacity to recognize the direction of the Spirit. The genius of the gospel plan is that by doing those things the Lord counsels us to do, we are given every understanding and every capacity necessary to provide peace and rich fulfillment in this life. Likewise, we gain the preparation necessary for eternal happiness in the presence of the Lord.

Faith has been described in a number of ways. My mom says it’s like the wind: you can’t see it, but you can observe its effects. I agree with that!

Similarly, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that faith is a principle of action. I like that because it makes it concrete. Faith actually MAKES things happen. It’s a necessary ingredient in the best parts of life. In Ether 12:12-18 we read:

“For if there be no faith among the children of men God can do no miracle among them; wherefore, he showed not himself until after their faith. Behold, it was the faith of Alma and Amulek that caused the prison to tumble to the earth. Behold, it was the faith of Nephi and Lehi that wrought the change upon the Lamanites, that they were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost. Behold, it was the faith of Ammon and his brethren which wrought so great a miracle among the Lamanites. Yea, and even all they who wrought miracles wrought them by faith, even those who were before Christ and also those who were after. And it was by faith that the three disciples obtained a promise that they should not taste of death; and they obtained not the promise until after their faith. And neither at any time hath any wrought miracles until after their faith; wherefore they first believed in the Son of God.”

And that’s the key. Faith is not just a nebulous feeling, a sense that things will turn out okay. Faith is only effective and powerful when centered in the Lord Jesus Christ. In his talk, “Be Not Faithless, But Believing,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said:

“Believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the greatest figure of time and eternity. Believe that his matchless life reached back before the world was formed. Believe that he was the Creator of the earth on which we live. Believe that he was Jehovah of the Old Testament, that he was the Messiah of the New Testament, that he died and was resurrected … Believe and know that he was a man of miracles. He who had created the world and governed it as the great Jehovah understood the elements of earth and all the functions of life. Beginning at Cana, where he turned the water into wine, he went on to cause the lame to walk, the blind to see, the dead to return to life — he, the Master Physician, who healed the sick by the authority inherent in him as the Son of God. He was the comforter of the burdened of his time, and of all the generations who have come after who have truly believed in him.”

My spiritual siblings, I believe in Him. I have faith. I know that as we follow Him, strive to keep His commandments, repent when we fall short, and live our lives as examples of His goodness, serving and blessing others, sharing our great gifts, talents, and blessings, and enduring to the end, our faith will grow, our peace will grow, and our lives will shine as a testament of the unfathomable love that Jesus Christ and God the Eternal Father have for each of us, His children.

I testify to you that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of God, that Jesus Christ stands at its head and directs His prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. I support and sustain and trust the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles . . . I look up to them and love them. I know the Book of Mormon is a true record, and I know that God hears our faith-filled prayers and responds to them in the manner and timing that is ultimately to our best good.

And I leave this message with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Obedience Enables Agency

I know we often speak of agency enabling our obedience: we can only choose the right if we have the ability to make choices. We understand this principle intuitively...choices have consequences that affect our agency. For example, if we choose to steal, we may find our agency limited by the fact that we are now in a jail cell. If we choose to do drugs, we may find our agency greatly impaired by the fact that we have become addicted to a substance. This cause-effect relationship is pretty straightforward.

But yesterday in sacrament meeting, I bore my testimony on the converse principle: how obedience actually makes it possible for us to fully utilize our agency. Allow me to explain.

  1. Obedience leads to keeping the commandments.
  2. Keeping the commandments invites the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  3. One of the Holy Ghost's primary objectives is to testify of truth.
  4. Discerning truth enables us to use our agency.

Aside from the embedded links, I don't think there's much to delve into with those first three; they're pretty self-evident. I'd like to focus on that last one. If we don't know the truth, we cannot effectively make use of our agency (that's why deception is Satan's number one tool). For example, if I tell you to choose between my chocolate ice cream and my vanilla ice cream, you may be free to choose, but that agency avails you nothing if the truth is that I only have strawberry ice cream.

Satan pulls this bait-and-switch all the time, by trying to convince us that sin will bring joy, or that our actions have no consequences, or that there is no good or evil, or any number of other lies that make it more difficult to make an informed decision. In fact, if we could see all things as they really are, using our agency correctly would be much, much easier for most of us.

And that's why it's critical that we do all we can to keep truth in our sights...and the best way to do that is through the gift of the Holy Ghost. Truth can be found in all sorts of places: certainly in the scriptures, and from the prophets, but also in many other places in life. And the Holy Ghost will help us discern truth from error.

And there's no better way to stay close to the Holy Ghost than by keeping the commandments. Yes, we all fail and fail often, which is why we should repent quickly and often (see item #4 here, though the whole talk is fantastic). But working toward perfect obedience is the goal, and the key to our ability to choose the right and thus fail less often. I now better understand what it says in my patriarchal blessing, that "learning and obeying the commandments is the most profitable thing you can do in this life."

If we strive for obedience, we will find ourselves better equipped to choose correctly, enabling that all-important gift of agency and helping us to become more and more of what our Heavenly Father wants us to become.

I love how the gospel all fits together so neatly, perfectly designed for our benefit and blessing.

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

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