july’s lesson

[I can’t even tell you how much I love my calling. I love researching and preparing a lesson to teach on the fourth Sunday of each month. I love how it makes me feel and how much I learn. I love speaking to the sisters in my ward . . .]

This conference talk is called the Race of Life and President Monson tells a story from his youth that brings that title to life. It’s toward the middle, but and I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize it when we get there.

You all know what a paradigm shift is. . . right? I love the story in one of Steven Covey’s books. He says he was traveling on a subway, and a man gets on with his two sons. The sons are running all over the place bothering the people. This continues, until Mr. Covey finally gets irritated enough to ask the father why he doesn’t do something to control his kids. The father replies, “Well, we just got back from the hospital where their mother just died. I don’t know how to handle it and I guess they don’t either.”

Suddenly, you see everything differently. That is the power of a paradigm shift. They are the same kids yelling and screaming and running all over the place, but you look at them and understand them in a different way. Your heart feels differently about the situation.

President Monson’s conference talk has a similar paradigm shift. He explains that moments of clarity come to all of us at one time or another, and although it’s not always through dramatic circumstances, it often takes something dramatic happening in our lives to help us to see more clearly . . what really matters and how we should be living.

He says he recently visited with a woman who has been battling a life-threatening disease for a couple of years. She told him that before her illness, her days were filled with activities such as cleaning her house to perfection and filling it with beautiful furnishings. She went to the hairdresser twice a week and spent money and time each month shopping for new clothes. Her grandchildren weren’t invited to visit very often because she was concerned that her precious possessions might get broken or ruined by tiny careless hands. [Believe me I can relate . . .]

And, then she received the shocking news that her life was ending and she had very limited time left here. She said at the moment she heard the doctor’s diagnosis, she knew immediately she would spend whatever time she had left with her family and friends and with the gospel at the center of her life, because, of course, these represented what really was most precious to her.

I don’t know about you, but I love clarity! I love seeing things as they really are. I often say, I can deal with anything as long as I know the truth. That means that I can deal with really hard things and work hard to figure out a solution or an answer as long as I know I am dealing with something that really is what it appears to be. Nothing frustrates me more than to work hard on something and then find out that it really isn’t what was needed after all.

President Monson talks about truth. He talks about Eternal truths. Eternal truths give us clarity. And, we can collectively deal with anything when we have Eternal truths to answer our every question. In fact, as our Prophet puts it, Eternal truths enrich our lives and see us safely home to our Heavenly Father.

He talks about our fast-paced lives. Everywhere you go people are in a hurry. Jet-powered aircraft speed their precious human cargo across broad continents and vast oceans so that business meetings might be attended, obligations met, vacations enjoyed, or families visited. Roadways everywhere—including freeways, thruways, and motorways—carry millions of automobiles, occupied by more millions of people, in a seemingly endless stream and for a multitude of reasons as we rush about the business of each day.

Every time one of my friends goes to Utah we end up talking about the traffic. I lived in Utah for a while and it bothered me then, but now that my life is more “slow-paced,” I can hardly wait to get out of the traffic and get back to my old slow dirt road.

You know what I’m talking about!

I love this quote. It’s really amazing what we make important in our lives when nothing is important.

President Monson says that when compared to Eternal truths, most of the questions and concerns of our daily lives are really pretty trivial. What should we have for dinner? What color should we paint the living room? Should I fertilize or just water more? Which recipe should I use for zucchini bread? I wonder what’s on TV. Should we sign Johnny up for soccer? These questions and countless others like them lose their significance when a crisis arises, when loved ones are hurt or injured, when a loved one gets sick, or when life’s candle begins to dims. Our thoughts suddenly become focused, and we are able to see what is really important and what is merely trivial.

It’s often at these times, when we start to ask the important questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we leave this life?

And, it’s often at these times when we are ready to listen to answers.

President Monson tells about Robert Blatchford. He spent a large part of his life attacking Christian beliefs about God, Christ, prayer, and particularly immortality. He boldly asserted that death was the end of our existence and that no one could prove otherwise. Then a surprising thing happened. His wall of skepticism suddenly crumbled to dust. He was left exposed and undefended. Slowly, he began to feel his way back to the faith he had ridiculed and abandoned for most of his life. What had caused this change? His wife died.

With a broken heart he went into the room where she lay. He looked again at the face he loved so well. And, then coming out, he said to a friend: “It is she, and yet it is not she. Everything is changed. Something that was there before is taken away. She is not the same. What can be gone if it be not the soul?”

Later he wrote: “Death is not what some people imagine. It is only like going into another room. In that other room we shall find … those we have loved and lost.”

We are so fortunate to know, to have been taught our whole lives that there is life after death. In fact we know that there can be a glorious life for each of us when we follow our prophet and our Savior’s example. Alma taught us about our mortal death and exactly what happens to our spirit.

“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection—Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.

“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”

Every single time I read and study the Book of Mormon I think about the differences between the Nephites and the Lamanites. We are just about to study the war chapters of the in the Book of Mormon. It seems that when the Nephites were prospering and were having a ‘good life,’ they knew the answers to those important questions. They knew where they came from. They knew why they were here. And they knew where they were heading after they left this life. The Lamanites, as a whole, didn’t recognize those truths. They didn’t believe those teachings and as a result, they’re lives were full of confusion, contention and hatred.

President Monson says: Clearly, one primary purpose of our existence on the earth is to obtain a body of flesh and bones. We have also been given the gift of agency. In a thousand ways we are privileged to choose for ourselves. Here, we learn from the hard taskmaster of experience. We discern between good and evil. We differENtiate as to the bitter and the sweet. We discover that there are consequences attached to our actions.

He says: How grateful we should be that a wise Creator fashioned an earth and placed us here, with a veil of forgetfulness of our previous existence so that we might experience a time of testing, an opportunity to prove ourselves in order to qualify for all that God has prepared for us to receive.

This is a wonderful time to live. There are so many conveniences, so much technology, the ability to keep in touch with loved ones all over the world. There are many ways to keep ourselves learning and growing and serving. And yet life continues to have it challenges and difficulties. How wonderful to know the answers to Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after we leave this life?

President Monson shares a personal experience. He says:

When I reflect on the race of life, I remember another type of race, even from childhood days. My friends and I would take pocketknives in hand and, from the soft wood of a willow tree, fashion small toy boats. [Try saying that ten times in a row . . .] With a triangular-shaped cotton sail in place, each would launch his crude craft in the race down the relatively turbulent waters of Utah’s Provo River. We would run along the river’s bank and watch the tiny vessels sometimes bobbing violently in the swift current and at other times sailing serenely as the water deepened.

During a particular race we noted that one boat led all the rest toward the appointed finish line. Suddenly, the current carried it too close to a large whirlpool, and the boat heaved to its side and capsized. Around and around it was carried, unable to make its way back into the main current. At last it came to an uneasy rest amid the flotsam and jetsam that surrounded it, held fast by the tentacles of the grasping green moss.

The toy boats of childhood had no keel for stability, no rudder to provide direction, and no source of power. Inevitably, their destination was downstream—the path of least resistance.

Unlike toy boats, we have been provided divine attributes to guide our journey. We enter mortality not to float with the moving currents of life but with the power to think, to reason, and to achieve.

Our Heavenly Father did not launch us on our eternal voyage without providing the means whereby we could receive from Him guidance to ensure our safe return. Prayer, the whisperings from that still, small voice; and the Holy Scriptures, which contain the word of the Lord and the words of the prophets—help us successfully cross the finish line.

This is a wonderful religion. It’s an amazing church. It is stronger and bigger and sounder than it has ever been. This gospel answers all of our questions.

Those who seek, embrace and then seek to live the principles of the gospel find happiness and peace. It works Everywhere and for Everyone. It translates successfully into every language and every circumstance. The gospel works right here in Bridger Valley, but it is just as amazing in an isolated village with no running water. And again, just as amazing in New York City or Podunk, Alaska. [I’m not sure that’s a real town. I might have made that up.] But what I’m saying is that the gospel works all over this big world. When I read or hear stories about member’s lives all over the world I gain a stunning testimony again and again. There are people whose lives are being made better because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s true and it works and that is the evidence of the truthfulness of it and of the broad and comprehensive love of The Lord for every one of his children as we make choices that qualify us for His grace in our lives. It enables us to be happy now and home ‘forever more’ if we’ll just hang on tight.

As I look around this room I can see that most everyone knows the truths of the gospel and the Eternal truths that President Monson refers to. So what do we do with this information?

I heard this on the Mormon Channel. . .

Today we have all sorts of opportunities. Most Latter Day Saints like to talk about the gospel and they like nothing better than when they are sincerely asked by a neighbor or friend to tell them about our faith. It’s kind of in our spiritual DNA, I think, to be able to talk about the gospel. If you go back and think what the scriptures teach, you have the Savior, right before he ascends into Heaven and the last thing he says in the New Testament is “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” The Book of Mormon says the same kind of thing. So there is this sense that it’s part of our duty as Latter day saints and it’s an obligation.

We often talk about being a chosen people. We do belong to the Lord’s Church. We know that this is His organization on the earth. We know that He personally leads this Church and communicates with the living prophet on the earth who directs this Church though personal revelation from the Lord himself. That makes us pretty special right? Wrong.

I love this quote is from Falling into Heaven, by James Ferrell.

“One of the most common phrases in any LDS testimony meeting is the declaration that “this is the true church” and so we believe it to be. The priesthood keys that enable the performance of all the necessary ordinances of salvation were restored to the earth through the prophet Joseph Smith. This is among our testimonies. However, we risk becoming like the Zoramites if we think that being a member of the “true church” makes us the “true people.” And others the “untrue.”

With a little reflection it becomes obvious that one of the foundational teachings of the church is that mere membership in it does not make one better than anyone else. Jesus’ vehement rebuke of the Jews who thought themselves better merely because of their lineage applies to those, as well. who might think themselves better because of their baptism. One might strenuously object to this thought with a question like this: “So are you saying that being baptized a member of the church isn’t necessary?” to which I would answer, “That is not at all what I am saying.”

Baptism and all the other saving ordinances of the gospel are essential. And the members of the Church in these latter days have been chosen for – that is, charged with – the responsibility of taking those ordinances to the world. But to be chosen for responsibility is not at all to be designated as ‘superior.’ We have been given an obligation, not a stamp of approval.”

We need to open our mouths. In this race of life, we have been given so many answers and we have the responsibility to share those answers. So when someone asks . . . share. Don’t overwhelm, just share how the gospel makes you feel, how the gospel of Jesus Christ has changed and enriched your life . . . How the gospel of Jesus Christ is important to you and to your family.

Sometimes its good in a conversation to establish very early some essential parameters. We refer to it as ‘the elevator speech’ or the ‘bus stop speech’ where for 30 seconds we know how to summarize the essential truths of the gospel. That’s good for everyone to be familiar with.

It goes something like this:

The first thing you need to know about our faith, before I answer that question, is that we are a Christian Church, that we embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior. That we believe all that the Bible teaches about his birth, his life, his ministry, his crucifixion, his resurrection. We believe that the church that He established fell away from the truth that he taught and over centuries it had to be brought back and we believe that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints today is the latter day restoration of that church.

The Church provides answers for us. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go after this life? These universal questions no long need to remain unanswered.

President Monson says: Our Heavenly Father rejoices for those who keep His commandments. He is concerned also for the lost child, the tardy teenager, the wayward youth, the delinquent parent. Tenderly the Master speaks to these and indeed to all: “Come back. Come up. Come in. Come home. Come unto me.”

I pray that we might always seek celestial glory. President Monson ends with these thoughts. It is in the presence of God we desire to dwell. It is a ‘forever family’ in which we want membership. Such blessings are earned through a lifetime of striving, seeking, repenting, and finally succeeding.

In the name of Jesus Christ . . . Amen.