Sunday, December 28, 2008

Gospel Centered Goal Setting

The talks at church today were about goal setting and the lesson in priesthood continued the theme. I had a few thoughts as I listened to the talks. First, a favorite verse in Proverbs: "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). I think this applies to the need for revelation, but also to the need for dreams and expectations for life.

The Pearl of Great Price makes clear that creation is a two step process. Things must be created spiritually before they are created physically. That is true of planets and lives. Having a vision allows us to backwards engineer our lives. We can see where we want to be and the gap between where we now reside. Then we can see what steps are necessary to get there.

The marathon runner Juma Ikangaa, said, "The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." Success takes work, and we have been sent to succeed in this life. One thing mentioned during priesthood was that we need to remember our Patriarchal Blessings. Many promises rest on hearkening to the "if" statements in those blessings.

The most important thing when setting goals is to seek the Spirit as a guide. When we have a goal, Alma 32 is a guide to accomplishing it.

We need to awake and arouse our faculties and peform an experiment on the goal. Then, if we exercise a particle of faith and can no more than desire to accomplish the goal, that desire can work in us until we are able to move forward (see Alma 32:27).

Goals, like the word of God, can be likened to a seed, especially if the goal was inspired by the Spirit. If goals are good and true, they can be planted in our hearts. Then if we do not cast the goal out by our unbelief, they can swell within us until they make us better than we were. Good goals will enlarge our souls and enlighten our understandings (see Alma 32:28).

As we accomplish different goals, we will be able to know that we have been inspired in setting those goals. Our ability to envision and attain new goals will increase (see Alma 32:34).

Whenever we set goals but neglect them, they will not take root and grow. Any trial that comes along will scorch them like the hot sun on a malnourished plant (see Alma 32:38).

This is not because accomplishing the goal would not have been good in our lives, but our ground was barren. If we don't nourish the tree, we can't expect any fruit from it (see Alma 32:39).

As we set goals and nourish them with great diligence, patience, and faith, they will begin to spring up in us creating great strength (see Alma 32:41).

The Spirit can inspire goals of all kinds: education, exercise, diet, relationships, church service, and whatever else could improve our lives. But with Spirit-inspired goals, it is vital that they are not cast away like typical New Year resolutions. Making and keeping commitments to the Lord is at the center of the Restored Gospel.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jesus the Christ

The following is a talk I have prepared for today:

This Christmas season, I was pondering how to give a gift to those who mean the most to me. Having just finished school, I don’t have the financial means to give toys. The greatest gift is Jesus Christ. When we come to know Him and love Him, we become driven to share that gift. Ironically, it is only by sharing this gift that we have any to give away. The same is true of all the great Christian attributes - faith, hope, and charity - the more we give them, the more we have to give.

I want to share today a few experiences and thoughts I have had which have brought me closer to Jesus Christ. In August 2002, I sat in a chapel in Dallas as an Apostle of the Lord, Richard G. Scott, addressed a group of college age single adults. He spoke about dealing with the challenges of life by knowing about the plan of happiness. He said we often know about the general plan of happiness, and how the atonement of Jesus Christ applies to everyone. But we need to have a testimony of how the atonement applies to us – our specific plan of happiness, which will be revealed to us piece by piece. With our willingness comes direct guidance without compromising our agency.

The atonement is a very personal event. Listen to this description from Alma:
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).
Jesus Christ experienced all these things that he may know how to reach each one of us. Brigham Young said it this way: Jesus the Christ descended below all things literally – according to the flesh – so that no case in human history, no person, no life, however tragic or sin-stained, would fall outside of His compassion or His power.

I have a trio of favorite related scriptures from the Book of Mormon:
He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation...

Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden (2 Nephi 26:24, 28).

And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation (3 Nephi 18:25)

And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil— (3 Nephi 27:14).
These have a series of beautiful ideas to me. Jesus Christ does everything for the benefit of the world because he loves the world. None are turned away and Christ was lifted up to draw all men to him and lift all men up.

Joseph Smith pointed out that we set stakes limiting the power of Jesus’ atonement by our unbelief. Nephi’s stubborn brothers provide an example of doing just that. Immediately after his remarkable vision which expanded on Father Lehi’s earlier vision, Nephi found Laman and Lemuel arguing about the meaning of Lehi’s dream. Nephi “said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?” Stating what they thought was obvious, Laman and Lemuel responded, “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us” (1 Nephi 15:8-9).

Any time we are tempted to feel that something which would be good in our lives is impossible, we are just like Laman and Lemuel: “I can’t get a testimony,” or “I can’t change and repent,” or “I can’t survive school,” or “I can’t serve a mission,” or “I can’t get a job,” or “I can’t start a family in times of such turmoil.” It doesn’t matter what any one of us can or can’t do. This is the Lord’s work. We are children of God. We have an Older Brother named Jesus Christ. It is their work and glory to give all of us immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39).

Later in the narrative, Laman and Lemuel were threatening to throw Nephi off the cliff for trying to build a boat. Nephi rebukes them saying, “And I said unto them: If God had commanded me to do all things I could do them. If he should command me that I should say unto this water, be thou earth, it should be earth; and if I should say it, it would be done. And now, if the Lord has such great power, and has wrought so many miracles among the children of men, how is it that he cannot instruct me, that I should build a ship?” (1 Nephi 17:50-51).

Nephi is trying to get his family to the Promised Land – just like us. He is ready to exercise his priesthood and walk to America if he has to. He has an easier task. He gets to build a boat. I love his question: “How is it that [the Lord] cannot instruct me?”

Centuries later, King Benjamin is teaching his people and tells them something remarkable:
[T]he Lord God hath sent his holy prophets among all the children of men, to declare these things to every kindred, nation, and tongue, that thereby whosoever should believe that Christ should come, the same might receive remission of their sins, and rejoice with exceedingly great joy, even as though he had already come among them (Mosiah 3:13).
They lived about 124 BC and if they believed, they could rejoice as if Christ had already come. Think of the application for us: if we believe NOW, we can rejoice as if the Millennium has already started. We don’t have to wait for Christ to actually return.

All of this is contingent on us repenting and more fully accepting Christ into our lives. The kind of repentance I am talking about is the most difficult. We can’t just wash our hands and get the dirt of our sins off. As then Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in April 2007 Conference:
True repentance brings us back to doing what is right. To truly repent we must recognize our sins and feel remorse, or godly sorrow, and confess those sins to God. If our sins are serious, we must also confess them to our authorized priesthood leader. We need to ask God for forgiveness and do all we can to correct whatever harm our actions may have caused. Repentance means a change of mind and heart—we stop doing things that are wrong, and we start doing things that are right. It brings us a fresh attitude toward God, oneself, and life in general.
Moroni records this promise: "But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven" (Moroni 6:8).
Real intent means that we have genuine sorrow, but also love. With real intent, we love those we may have wronged and strive to make it right. With real intent, we speak with priesthood leaders when necessary to show our humility before the Lord. Repentance is not just fixing a particular sin; it changes our heart.

When someone has a blood disease, they need new blood. It is sometimes necessary to give the person a bone marrow transplant to help them create their own new red blood cells to fight the disease. Our repentance needs to be as deep as our bone marrow. We get new blood when we become the children of Christ:
And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters (Mosiah 5:7).
Preach My Gospel says, “As we obey God, He blesses us… He helps us change the desires of our hearts” (p.62). When we are the children of Christ, we have new blood and a new heart. We no longer have any desire to sin. We move beyond constantly repairing the same mistakes; we move to loving and serving those around us.

When we come to know and love Jesus Christ, we are more and more able to live the kind of life he lived. At this season when we remember his birth, let us also remember the atonement he performed. Let us remember the chance that atonement gives us to repent and get new blood. That is the kind of gift that we can carry beyond the holiday season.