Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 12. My Sacrament Meeting Talk.

Bryce and I spoke in Church on Sunday October 12th.  Below is the talk I shared.  Please forgive the typos.


Good afternoon brothers and sisters.  It’s nice to be with you today.  I can’t remember the last time I spoke in Sacrament meeting when I wasn't joining or leaving the ward.  This must be some sort of milestone in my life and it must mean I am old or the bishopric has run out of people to ask to speak.

I am going to start by doing something a little unusual for a sacrament meeting talk.  I am going to ask you all to close your eyes and bow your head.  Well, that part’s not that unusual.  Now, try and clear your mind of all your worries, all the mundane things you have been thinking about, and even what your neighbor is doing right now.  If you have small children, you might want to keep one eye open.  So clear your mind and take a deep breath. In.  Out.  One more breath.  Ok, you can open your eyes.  I will come back to that in a minute.

Rather than discussing one particular talk from conference I thought I would share some of the things that have been rolling around in my head like loose marbles.  (It’s a lot more empty in there than you might think).  Hopefully, I can bring them together into something coherent.  The first is President Uchtdorf’s talk from the General Women's meeting.  President Uchtdorf spoke of “living the gospel joyful.”  When he first said that I wanted to complete the word for him.  I wanted to say “live the gospel joyfully” rather than “live the gospel joyful.”  Now I know that President Uchtdorf is a smart guy and I’m pretty sure his knowledge of English grammar is excellent, so he probably knows the difference between the two words.  Joyfully is an adverb that would describe how we live the gospel.  Whereas Joyful is an adjective that modifies the what the gospel is.  By using the phrase “live the gospel joyful” President Uchtdorf is not making a comment on how we should live the gospel, but telling us what the gospel is all about.  Perhaps he is aware that living the gospel in a joyful manner isn’t always easy even if the gospel itself is meant to be joyful.  Sometimes living the gospel feels less than joyful.  In fact, sometimes it’s hard and sometimes we might wonder if it’s even worth it.

President Uchtdorf notes, "And yet for some of us, obedience to God’s commandments doesn’t always feel very joyful. Let’s face it: there may be some that seem harder or less appealing—commandments that we approach with the enthusiasm of a child sitting before a plate of healthy but hated vegetables. We grit our teeth and force ourselves to comply so that we can move on to more desirable activities."

I don’t know about you, but I have had those moments.  When visiting teaching seemed an inconvenience, sharing the gospel seemed a burden, and fulfilling my calling a waste of time.

Elder Jorg Klebingat of the Seventy gave us one reason why we might struggle.  He said, "Whenever the adversary cannot persuade imperfect yet striving Saints such as you to abandon your belief in a personal and loving God, he employs a vicious campaign to put as much distance as possible between you and God. The adversary knows that faith in Christ—the kind of faith that produces a steady stream of tender mercies and even mighty miracles—goes hand in hand with a personal confidence that you are striving to choose the right. For that reason he will seek access to your heart to tell you lies—lies that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you, that the Atonement is beyond your reach, that there is no point in even trying, that everyone else is better than you, that you are unworthy, and a thousand variations of that same evil theme."

In other words, if Satan can’t make you stop believing in God, he will try to make you feel far, far away from Him.  He use lies about the church, about God’s nature, about other people and about yourself you manufacture that distance.  Satan might tell us the church leaders are making mistakes or doing things wrong, the church’s policies hurt people or are absurd.  There are others who seem less righteous and yet have more blessing, God isn’t answering my prayers and yet my desires are righteous and on and on.  His lies are endless and sometimes enticing.  President Uchtdorf identified another lie:  "Part of our challenge is, I think, that we imagine that God has all of His blessings locked in a huge cloud up in heaven, refusing to give them to us unless we comply with some strict, paternalistic requirements He has set up. But the commandments aren’t like that at all. In reality, Heavenly Father is constantly raining blessings upon us. It is our fear, doubt, and sin that, like an umbrella, block these blessings from reaching us."

Satan really doesn’t want us to find joy in living the gospel.  He wants us to be miserable like he is.  Elder Klebingat reminds us that when we listen to the lies that Satan tells us, living the gospel that way isn’t much fun.  Living the gospel and being miserable “is completely unnecessary.”

Elder Scott told us conference that “We were taught in the premortal world that our purpose in coming here is to be tested, tried, and stretched.  We knew we would face the evils of the adversary. Sometimes we may feel more aware of the negative things of mortality than we are of the positive. The prophet Lehi taught, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.”  Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith. Such exercise invites the positive, faith-filled power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ into our lives.”

President Uchtdorf explains: "Walking in the path of discipleship does not need to be a bitter experience. It “is sweet above all that is sweet.”  It is not a burden that weighs us down. Discipleship lifts our spirits and lightens our hearts. It inspires us with faith, hope, and charity. It fills our spirits with light in times of darkness, and serenity during times of sorrow. . . . It gives us divine power and lasting joy."

I sometimes have heard those statements in times of struggle and wondered why I didn’t feel it.  I can remember when I was single and longing to find an eternal companion.  It was a real trial for me.  I felt so empty and disconnected from the Lord and my own family.  And yet I wanted to feel the joy of the gospel and I wanted my faith in Christ to overcome my sorrow.  I can remember reading in the Book of Mormon Alma 31:38 “And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith.

The problem was that even though I prayed for my afflictions to be swallowed up in the joy of Christ, I was often still miserable.

I found some of the advice given in conference very helpful for the times when we might be struggling to live the gospel joyful.

President Monson told us “We read in Proverbs the admonition, ‘Ponder the path of thy feet.’  As we do, we will have the faith, even the desire, to walk the path which Jesus walked.”  I like that “Ponder the path of thy feet.”  Where are you standing in your journey?  Are your feet firmly planted on gospel sod?  Do you have faith in every footstep?  Perhaps there are some changes you can make to ensure you are walking the path you need to.  Don’t ignore the nagging promptings of the spirit.  They may stop nagging if you choose not to change.

Once we are on the path toward our Savior, the advice of Elder Lynn G. Robbins applicable.  “Which way do you face?”  He talked to us in conference about giving in to the fear of men and trying not to please the voices of the world.  We should make sure that we are putting the Lord first and walking toward him with an eye single to his glory.  It also doesn’t hurt to have your tent pointed toward the voice of the prophet.

Elder Scott gave us four tools for “securing our lives in the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”  Prayer, Scripture Study, Family Home Evening and Temple Attendance.  He told us: Remember our Savior is the Prince of Peace. Peace in this mortal life comes from His atoning sacrifice.When we are consistently praying morning and night, studying our scriptures daily, having weekly family home evening, and attending the temple regularly, we are actively responding to His invitation to “come unto Him.” The more we develop these habits, the more anxious is Satan to harm us but the less is his ability to do so. Through the use of these tools, we exercise our agency to accept the full gifts of His atoning sacrifice.”

Honestly, there is a long list of things we can do.  And sometimes it is this long list that is the very thing that makes us feel a bit overwhelmed.  Even President Uchtdorf cautions “When we treat God’s commandments and our part in building His kingdom like something to check off on a to-do list, we miss the heart of discipleship.”

I like to think of the long list of gospel essentials not as a necessary task list, but as a myriad of opportunities the Lord has given us to access Him and His Spirit.  They are not things to do, but opportunities for us to engage with him.  In that way we might do what President Monson says, “There is no higher end than this, that we should choose to accept His discipline and become His disciples and do His work throughout our lives.”  I love how he refers to our discipleship as a discipline.  A discipline is not something that is achieved, but is something that is practiced.  We can practice prayer, we can practice VT and HT we can practice temple attendance.  We need not be good at any one part of the gospel.  After all we are just practicing a discipline.  We are just exercising faith.

Even in our practice of gospel living, we might still struggle.  What then?  Well, I’d like to suggest some age old and profound advice:  “Fake it till you make it.”  Now before you think me a bit unorthodox for offering such advice, I do have some scientific basis.

There is a Harvard researcher, Amy Cuddy, who has been able to prove that there is some truth to these statements.  She even takes it a step further and says you can fake it until you become it.  Her research is interesting because she has looked at how our physical bodies can change our minds, or our brain chemistry.  She was able to show that by using what she calls a power pose, the hormones in the brain literally changed.  Testosterone went up and Cortisol went down.  An individual’s confidence was increased and the performance improved.  An example of one of the power poses is basically the Wonder Woman stance.  Two minutes of this stance before a stressful job interview, performance (like a talk in church), or challenging social situation is scientifically proven to improve how you act.  Try it.

Tiffany Lewis a columnist for the DN, hypothozied regarding spiritual power poses--the physical postures we might make that can change our brain chemistry.  This concept resonates with me.  When we employ our physical bodies to participate in the gospel, our faith can increase.  Perhaps that is why the ordinances of the gospel are a physical acts.  Our bodies are buried in water both figuratively and physically when we are baptized.  A priesthood blessing is given by physically placing hands on a person’s head.  We could renew our baptismal covenants with a prayer, but we don’t.  We physically take upon us and into us emblems of our Savior.  When we pray we bow our heads and close our eyes and fold our arms.  We could pray without doing these things but the posture of prayer humbles us, makes us more submissive and open to the spirit.

That is why I had you do those things at the beginning of my talk.  To physically engage you in worship if only for a few moments.

I would like to end my thoughts on living the gospel joyful with a story that Sister Cheryl A. Esplin shared in conference:

"A Young Women leader recently learned about the strength we receive as we strive to thoughtfully partake of the sacrament. Working to complete a requirement in Personal Progress, she set a goal to focus on the words in the sacrament hymns and prayers.

Each week, she conducted a self-evaluation during the sacrament. She recalled mistakes she had made, and she committed to be better the next week. She was grateful to be able to make things right and be made clean. Looking back on the experience, she said, “I was acting on the repentance part of the Atonement.”

One Sunday after her self-evaluation, she began to feel gloomy and pessimistic. She could see that she was making the same errors over and over again, week to week. But then she had a distinct impression that she was neglecting a big part of the Atonement—Christ’s enabling power. She was forgetting all the times the Savior helped her be who she needed to be and serve beyond her own capacity.

With this in mind, she reflected again on the previous week. She said: “A feeling of joy broke through my melancholy as I noted that He had given me many opportunities and abilities. I noted with gratitude the ability I had to recognize my child’s need when it wasn’t obvious. I noted that on a day when I felt I could not pack in one more thing to do, I was able to offer strengthening words to a friend. I had shown patience in a circumstance that usually elicited the opposite from me.”

She concluded: “As I thanked God for the Savior’s enabling power in my life, I felt so much more optimistic toward the repentance process I was working through and I looked to the next week with renewed hope.”"

I like this story because I think it is easy to get caught up in all the things we should be doing and feel we are constantly falling short.  God is a merciful God who recognizes our limitations and wants to to learn and grow.

President Uchtdorf told the sisters: "You are loved.  You are dear to your heavenly parents.

The infinite and eternal Creator of light and life knows you! He is mindful of you.

Yes, God loves you this very day and always.

He is not waiting to love you until you have overcome your weaknesses and bad habits. He loves you today with a full understanding of your struggles. He is aware that you reach up to Him in heartfelt and hopeful prayer. He knows of the times you have held onto the fading light and believed—even in the midst of growing darkness. He knows of your sufferings. He knows of your remorse for the times you have fallen short or failed. And still He loves you.

And God knows of your successes; though they may seem small to you, He acknowledges and cherishes each one of them. He loves you for extending yourself to others. He loves you for reaching out and helping others bear their heavy burdens—even when you are struggling with your own.

He knows everything about you. He sees you clearly—He knows you as you really are. And He loves you—today and always!”

Elder Klebingat gave some some additional wonderful advice.  He suggested we partner with the Lord to endure well to the end.  There is no need to try and live the gospel without Him.  We shouldn’t even try.  He can be our partner and the Spirit our constant companion.  If we do this we can live the gospel more joyfully and our afflictions can be swallowed up in His joy.  And for the times that we still struggle we will know we are doing what we can and he is by our side helping us learn through the pain.

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