Sunday, February 24, 2019

Opposition and Adversity - Sunday Talk

There were so many ideas going through my head as I listened to Stake Conference last week, and the spirit took my mind in so many different directions, I couldn’t really make up my mind and center my talk in on one topic only. Stake Conference had a theme of “Peace in Christ.” And that’s where my mind started. Bro. Kyle Dory pulled at my heart strings for a second week in a row, and his topic was “Faith not to be healed.” As I listened to the other speakers and received even more inspiration, I was somewhat disappointed by not hearing anything about chicken fried steak and how it relates to happiness, but at least we got to hear some quotes by Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. However, my mind also found itself thinking heavily on how the Lord is “Separating the Wheat from the Tares” here in the last days. As I studied for my talk over the course of this last week, I found several general conference talks that inspired me to talk about there being “Opposition in All Things.” Then my mind wandered in the direction of “Faith” in general. What I actually wound up with here before me is a cut-and-paste version of all of the topics. I am relying heavily on the spirit to make real sense of it and to help you get the message you were meant to get out of it. Far be it for me to ignore a prompting and tell the spirit I’m not interested in mentioning this or that or speaking on that subject.

My thoughts went to the suffering and the trials that we have to endure in this life. First of all, do I personally have the faith to endure my own trials and hard times? Secondly, do I have sufficient faith when my loved ones are suffering? I feel that it would test my faith more, and it would be tougher for me to go through, if one of my loved ones were suffering.

As it has been mentioned many times before, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (Pierre de Chardin). Part of this human experience includes making mistakes and passing through trials and obstacles. Bobby McFerrin reminds us cheerfully is song that “in every life we have some troubles.”

The Proclamation to the World states that the purpose of mortal life for the children of God is to provide the experiences needed “to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.”

There are two kinds of trials that we have to endure in this life. (1) The trials that we bring upon ourselves through our own decisions. (2) The trials that happen to us through no fault of our own.

Many times we bring trials upon ourselves. Remember, we have the agency to make our own choices, but we don’t have the agency to choose the accompanying consequences. We’ve all heard stories of people who blame God for their problems, or of those who claim that, “If God loved me, he would accept me the way I am.” God's laws do not change, and no amount of us complaining about this law or that law will make Him change His mind. In many ways, this is God’s way of separating the wheat from tares.

There is a verse in Isaiah chapter 5 that has an especially prominent meaning in our latter days here. While writing about the “Lord’s Vineyard,” Isaiah writes:

20 Wo unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness, that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

In Matthew 13, the Lord tells a parable of the wheat and the tares, saying:

36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
37 He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

It will be even more challenging for those who have tasted of the truth, accepted the gospel, and then turned away from it. In Alma 24, verse 30, we read:

30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

Now, the trials we do not bring upon ourselves through our actions or decisions are often the toughest to understand or to endure. This is where many people begin to lose their faith, or to curse God and get angry with him. The prophet Malachi calls this the “refiner’s fire.”

In a 1979 General Conference talk, Elder James E. Faust spoke about this topic. He said:

Here then is a great truth. In the pain, the agony, and the heroic endeavors of life, we pass through a refiner’s fire, and the insignificant and the unimportant in our lives can melt away like dross and make our faith bright, intact, and strong. In this way the divine image can be mirrored from the soul. It is part of the purging toll exacted of some to become acquainted with God. In the agonies of life, we seem to listen better to the faint, godly whisperings of the Divine Shepherd.

Into every life there come the painful, despairing days of adversity and buffeting. There seems to be a full measure of anguish, sorrow, and often heartbreak for everyone, including those who earnestly seek to do right and be faithful. The thorns that prick, that stick in the flesh, that hurt, often change lives which seem robbed of significance and hope. This change comes about through a refining process which often seems cruel and hard. In this way the soul can become like soft clay in the hands of the Master in building lives of faith, usefulness, beauty, and strength. For some, the refiner’s fire causes a loss of belief and faith in God, but those with eternal perspective understand that such refining is part of the perfection process.

The Divine Shepherd has a message of hope, strength, and deliverance for all. If there were no night, we would not appreciate the day, nor could we see the stars and the vastness of the heavens. We must partake of the bitter with the sweet. There is a divine purpose in the adversities we encounter every day. They prepare, they purge, they purify, and thus they bless.

Out of the refiner’s fire can come a glorious deliverance. It can be a noble and lasting rebirth. The price to become acquainted with God will have been paid. There can come a sacred peace. There will be a reawakening of dormant, inner resources. A comfortable cloak of righteousness will be drawn around us to protect us and to keep us warm spiritually. Self-pity will vanish as our blessings are counted.

As John Denver once said, “Some days are diamonds, and some days are stones.”

Isaiah, before the Savior’s birth, referred to the Savior as “a man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3).

Speaking in the Doctrine and Covenants of himself, the Savior said:

“Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18).

From D&C 122, we read from a personal revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith:

The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;
If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;
If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee…
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.

My wife shared a quote with me last night which read, “Sometimes there is nothing we can do but let it rain and wait for the sunshine.”

Through our trials we earn experience, experience gives knowledge, and knowledge leads to intelligence. And after all, “The glory of God is intelligence.” (D&C 93:36)

Orson F. Whitney said:

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience, is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our character, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father. Is not this God’s purpose in [allowing] his children to suffer? He wants them to become more like himself. God has suffered far more than man ever did or ever will, and is therefore the great source of sympathy and consolation.

President Joseph F. Smith taught that “it is a feeble thought to believe that the illness and affliction that come to us are attributable either to the mercy or the displeasure of God.” (The Doctrine and Covenants Speaks, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970, vol. 2, p. 373.)

Sometimes we forget that we have cast out of God's presence. Because of sin and iniquity, we are fallen. Because of our fallen nature, we are separated from God. It doesn’t make sense for us to blame God for our trials when we have been cast out of his presence, and “no unclean thing can live in the presence of God.” We should not blame God for the bad things that happen in our lives. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” Our Father in Heaven only has the obligation to bless us when we are obedient. “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21). As we learn in the temple, God sends his messengers to do his will and to bless the lives of His children. He sends messengers to act as ministering angels in times of need in our lives. Many times, we act as those ministering angels, if we are listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and we are willing to act on those promptings.

Similarly, in modern revelation the Lord declares, “It must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves” (D&C 29:39).

To be tested, we must have the agency to choose between alternatives. To provide alternatives on which to exercise our agency, we must have opposition.

In an April 2016 Conference talk titled "Opposition in all things,” Elder Dallin H. Oaks teaches us:

From the beginning, agency and opposition were central to the Father’s plan and to Satan’s rebellion against it. As the Lord revealed to Moses, in the council of heaven Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). That destruction was inherent in the terms of Satan’s offer. He came before the Father and said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor” (Moses 4:1).

Thus, Satan proposed to carry out the Father’s plan in a way that would prevent the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose and give Satan His glory.

Satan’s proposal would have ensured perfect equality: it would “redeem all mankind,” that not one soul would be lost. There would be no agency or choice by anyone and, therefore, no need for opposition. There would be no test, no failure, and no success. There would be no growth to attain the purpose the Father desired for His children. The scriptures record that Satan’s opposition resulted in a “war in heaven” (Revelation 12:7), in which two-thirds of the children of God earned the right to experience mortal life by choosing the Father’s plan and rejecting Satan’s rebellion.

So it is that the evil one, who opposed and sought to destroy the Father’s plan, actually facilitated it, because it is opposition that enables choice and it is the opportunity of making the right choices that leads to the growth that is the purpose of the Father’s plan.

All of us experience various kinds of opposition that test us. Some of these tests are temptations to sin. Some are mortal challenges apart from personal sin. Some are very great. Some are minor. Some are continuous, and some are mere episodes. None of us is exempt. Opposition permits us to grow toward what our Heavenly Father would have us become.

President Thomas S. Monson also taught:

Our mortal life, however, was never meant to be easy or consistently pleasant. Our Heavenly Father, who gives us so much to delight in, also knows that we learn and grow and become refined through hard challenges, heartbreaking sorrows, and difficult choices. Each one of us experiences dark days when our loved ones pass away, painful times when our health is lost, feelings of being forsaken when those we love seem to have abandoned us. These and other trials present us with the real test of our ability to endure.

I heard someone say once that if we pray for patience, the Lord will bless us by giving us opportunities to learn patience. If we keep praying for the Lord to bless us to become more like him, he will put us through trials similar to those He passed through in order to learn what it is to be him. If we want fewer trials in our lives, perhaps we ought to stop asking our Father in Heaven to help us become more like him! J

Each of us is given our moral agency. It is not free as it was paid for by the blood of the Son of God. It is universal, however, and cannot be denied to anyone. What matters is what we do with it.

The world in general is full of individuals who will tell you that sin is okay. The society we live in preaches as normal and acceptable, even to the point of encouragement, things such as adultery, fornication, pornography, gambling, cursing, swearing, taking the name of the Lord in vain, and all manner of wickedness. Somehow it is okay to stop coming to church. Somehow, those who preach repentance are considered bigots, haters, and racists. Have we come so far in life as to look upon righteousness as wrong and abhorrent?

In the book of Helaman, chapter 13, it says:

27 But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth — and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
28 Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

God's laws do not and will not change. Not for me, not for you, not for anyone. That means, God will not come down and Pat you on the shoulder and say, "It is okay, my child, you do not need to attend church on Sundays." Nor will he ever say, "Normally, I wouldn't, but for you, it's okay to drink, smoke, chew tobacco, or allow inappropriate things into your home." Or perhaps, "You don't need to serve a mission." Or in some cases, "It's okay to not follow the law of chastity." Or, "You don't have to pay your tithing." No matter how hard you pray, no matter how much you complain or even curse God, you will not, nor indeed cannot, change his mind!

Patriarch Bangerter: We can and must open ourselves up to receive personal revelation. In this way we can get to know Him, and we will understand the Love God has for us, and the things the Lord has trusted us with.

Think about this... When you are at a time in your life when you are most doing the Lord's will, most in contact with Him in prayer, most obedient and faithful, why would trials seem to attack you at moments like these? Who is it that would most like to tear you down and stop you from receiving personal revelation? Who is it that would most like to see you suffer? Who is it that would want to see you stop doing the things that are most likely to bring you Joy and keep you on the covenant path? It is obvious! The devil himself does not want you to be happy. He does not want you to get closer to the Lord. He does not want you to return to live with Heavenly Father. So, naturally, when you are being good, he will try very hard to stop you.

As Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “Distancing yourself from the kingdom of God during a trial of faith is like leaving the safety of a secure storm cellar just as the tornado comes into view.”

In a General Conference talk given in April 2010, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom addressed the subject.

In the most difficult circumstances of life, there is often only one source of peace. The Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, extends His grace with the invitation “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He further promises, “My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). “If ye will turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart, and put your trust in him, and serve him with all diligence … , if ye do this, he will … deliver you out of bondage” (Mosiah 7:33).

I am but one person among the over 500,000 people in the state of Wyoming. There are 50 states with over 350,000,000 people in this great nation. There are over 180 countries on this planet with over 7.6 Billion people. This is but one planet in our solar system. The solar system is hidden among 400 Billion stars, each one with potentially its own solar system, making up our Milky Way Galaxy.  Our galaxy is one of countless galaxies scattered throughout the visible universe. Wherever the throne of our God, wherever the boundaries of His dominion, it does not matter. He hears and answers our prayers, regardless of the distance. It may not ever be in the time and place where we expect or desire the answers, but he does hear us. Whatever the reasons, whatever the suffering, remember that the Lord has “descended below all things.” His sacrifice is infinite and eternal, and there is nothing we can do to exempt ourselves from the love God and Jesus have for us.

D&C 101:32 “Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things.” We will one day know and understand why we endure those things we have been asked to endure, the trials with which we are tried, pains and agonies we suffer, and the temptations with which we are tempted. The refiner’s fire will melt away our impurities and we will one day become like our Father. And just as he promised: “And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; and he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:37-38)

God has put each of us on this planet in what I feel is the perfect place for us to do the most amount of growth and spiritual development. It may seem to us that it is not fair. Some are born healthy and others sick. Some are born into riches and others into poverty. It is not our current status or worldly possessions, or lack thereof, which will define us in the eternities. It will depend on what we do with what we are given.

The gospel is true. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, in whom I put my trust. Even in times of trial or heavy opposition.

The Book of Mormon is the word of God.

We have a living prophet today, whom we must follow.

God hears and answers our prayers.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen…