Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Using Our Agency for Good (Sunday Talk)

Sunday talk given by Christian R. Mills in church on  11 February 2024

Wives and mothers, you have my permission to look up and down the pew at which you are sitting and confiscate any cell phones that you see during the remainder of this meeting. There is nothing on that device or outside this room so important that you must be on it. I do not care what the score of the Manchester United and Aston Villa game is, or what Steve Young is saying about today’s Super Bowl. Put your phone away and listen... To me or to the spirit... Preferably both...

If you are like me, you hope for and pray for grand revelations each time we sit for General Conference. I desire to be spiritually fed. I receive personal revelation almost every time, but I look forward to announcements made to the church as a whole. That is probably why President Nelson's closing speeches, which include more temple announcements, carry so much power for me.

However, there are those whose testimonies hang on threads, and with each great announcement of revelation, or profound mention of doctrine, or improvement in church policy, they break and we never see them again.

I consider myself a traditionalist, and I do not take well to a lot of change. But in the church, if we remain forever in a stagnant pool of "going absolutely nowhere", then we are openly refusing to progress. When we are willing to progress, and to submit ourselves to the Lord, aligning our will to God's, then we avoid the mosquito infested waters and stride along the straight and narrow path. President Nelson stated that the church is not yet fully restored. Well, it is going to stay that way unless we, the Latter-Day Saints, are prepared and willing to receive said restorations.

Think back to Jacob and Esau. Esau was the oldest of the two brothers and was therefore in line for the birthright. This would have included land, livestock, and everything their father Isaac owned. Esau gave up his birthright to his younger brother Jacob to satisfy a need for instant gratification. He could not see past the nose on his face and wanted to be gratified in the here and now rather than see the larger picture and what was awaiting him in the future. (Genesis 25:29-34)

We must be cognizant of our eternal potential. God did not create us to be anything less than "like Him." Never at any point in the history of the universe did God put his arm around any of us and tell us that we were a second-rate creation. So, why do we continue to act like it? God's entire purpose is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of [all mankind]." (Moses 1:39)

When I was a young man – and I know it has been a very long time – I remember my leaders telling me, as well as all the youth then, that we were among the “Noble and Great” spoken of in the Book of Abraham. It made sense to me. The darker the world gets, the stronger the spirits of God need to be in order to overcome the world.

In Abraham it reads, “Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.”

Imagine for a moment that you were to have the same vision that Abraham had, and you were to indeed see many of those noble and great ones that we read about in the scriptures, just like you would expect. Imagine seeing the greatest people ever to come to earth! Abraham surely saw such people as Adam and Eve, Moses, Nephi, Mary, Peter, James, and John, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Russell M. Nelson, and other prophets and apostles. Abraham saw countless others as well in this vision, good people in every age who would follow God. I also bet that if you looked hard enough, you would eventually recognize among the ranks of these Noble and Great someone who looked a lot like you, only more glorious and beautiful than you could possibly imagine. And, just like Abraham, it would change your life forever.

President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) stated: “Even before they were born, they, with many others, received their first lessons in the world of spirits and were prepared to come forth in the due time of the Lord to labor in his vineyard for the salvation of the souls of men” (D&C 138:56).

President Russell M. Nelson, in a talk given in a Worldwide Youth Devotional in 2018, said, “Our Heavenly Father has reserved many of His most noble spirits—perhaps, I might say, His finest team—for this final phase. Those noble spirits—those finest players, those heroes—are you!” (Hope of Israel, June 3, 2018)

Sister Sherri L. Dew stated, “God our Father and His Son Jesus Christ, with Their perfect foreknowledge, already recommended every one of you to fill your mortal probation during the most decisive period in the history of the world. You are here now because you were elected to be here now (see 1 Peter 1:2). You simply must understand this, because you were born to lead by virtue of who you are, the covenants you have made, and the fact that you are here now in the 11th hour. You were born to lead as mothers and fathers, because nowhere is righteous leadership more crucial than in the family. You were born to lead as priesthood and auxiliary leaders; as heads of communities, companies, and even nations. You were born to lead as men and women willing “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places,” because that’s what a true leader does (Mosiah 18:9; emphasis added).” (Sheri L. Dew, You Were Born to Lead, You Were Born for Glory, December, 2003)

It would not make sense for the Lord to send his best and brightest into the world at a time when their skills and gifts were not needed. If you are here now, then you have skills, talents, and gifts that this world needs. So, stop covering your flame with a bushel!

Matthew 5:14-16 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Sister Dew continues, “But the last days are not for the faint of heart or the spiritually out of shape. There will be days when you feel defeated, exhausted, and plain old beat-up by life’s whiplash. People you love will disappoint you—and you will disappoint them. You’ll probably struggle with some kind of mortal appetite. Some days it will feel as though the veil between heaven and earth is made of reinforced concrete. And you may even face a crisis of faith. In fact, you can count on trials that test your testimony and your faith.” (Dew, December 2003)

In a talk given by Elder David B. Haight in 1987 titled Ethics and Honesty, he spoke, “Many of our youth have either lost the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong or were never taught these basic values. President Harold B. Lee’s classic statement that “the most important of the Lord’s work that you will ever do will be the work you do within the walls of your own home” is most certainly true today. “Ours is the responsibility as parents to teach our children chastity … [and not only to be morally clean but to be] faithful [and] valiant, striving to live [all of] the Lord’s commandments.” Individuals may deceive and even go undetected or unpunished, but they will not escape the judgments of a just God. No man can disobey the word of God and not suffer for so doing. No sin, however secret, can escape retribution and the judgment that follows such transgression. The devastation that comes to the families and loved ones of those convicted of crimes such as stealing, fraud, misrepresentation, child abuse, sexual transgression, or other serious crimes is immeasurable. So many sorrows, heartaches, and even broken homes result from a false belief that people can set their own rules and do what they want to do as long as they don’t get caught.” (Ethics and Honesty, David B. Haight, October 1987)

Nephi writes, “Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust” (2 Nephi 1:23).

In a talk given in October 2006 titled Rise up, O Men of God, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “There is not a man or boy in this vast congregation tonight who cannot improve his life. And that needs to happen. After all, we hold the priesthood of God. If we are boys who have received the Aaronic Priesthood, we are entitled to the ministering of angels to guide and direct, to bless and protect us. What a remarkable and wonderful thing that is. If we have had conferred upon us the Melchizedek Priesthood, we have been given the keys of the kingdom that carry with them eternal powers. These were spoken of by the Lord when He laid His hands upon the heads of His disciples. With this priesthood comes a great obligation to be worthy of it. We cannot indulge in unclean thoughts. We must not partake of pornography. We must never be guilty of abuse of any kind. We must rise up above such things. “Rise up, O men of God!” and put these things behind you, and the Lord will be your guide and stay.” (Rise Up, O Men of God! Gordon B. Hinckley, October 2006)

He continues, “[Technology] is a wonderful instrument when it is properly used. But when it is used… for any other purpose that leads to evil practices or evil thoughts, then there must be self-discipline enough to turn it off. The Lord has declared, “Purge ye out the iniquity which is among you; sanctify yourselves before me” (D&C 43:11). No one can mistake the meaning of those words.”

Agency is given to all to make the decisions they want to make with their lives. This often means that the rest of us will fall victim to the decisions of others. I have heard so many people use the excuse that if God was real and He loved us, then he would not allow us to suffer so much in this life. But God is real, and he does love us, which is exactly why he does not deny any of us our agency. To deny such agency would be to deny God and to follow Satan. Satan was the one who wanted to strip us of our agency and to force us into submission to selfishly glorify himself. But agency cannot be denied, or, like Alma tells us, “The works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God." (Alma 42:22)

This agency is far from free, however, as it was paid for by blood. The blood of Jesus Christ.

2 Nephi 2:14 "There is a God, and he hath created all things, both the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are, both things to act and things to be acted upon." Isaac Newton refers to this as his Third Law, the law of action and reaction. For every action, there must be a reaction.

The institute manual says this about “Things to act and things to be acted upon:” In all creation there is a fundamental difference between things that have agency, the ability to choose (“things that act”), and those things that do not have agency (“things acted upon”).

Alma says, "But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed." (Alma 42:22)

When we are using our agency for good, then the consequence of the action is referred to as a reward, or in other words, a blessing. When we use our agency to do that which is NOT good, the consequence is then referred to as a punishment, and we become subject to those consequences. In other words, when we are doing unrighteous things, we stop being a thing that acts and we become a thing which is acted upon. The more we stray, the less agency we have. Logically, the individual who strayed the farthest no longer has any agency whatsoever. Satan has severed his own connection with the light and truth, completely sacrificed his opportunity to repent, opted out of his own agency, and no longer progresses. He is now less than the stagnant water that attracts the mosquitoes!

So, let me ask you this: Which jersey are you wearing? No, I am not asking about the 49ers or Chiefs, but what side are you on? Are you someone that acts, or someone that is acted upon? What will you choose to do with your agency?

Elder Glen L. Pace in his talk titled “Spiritual Revival” (October, 1992) said, “Many of us take the blessings of the gospel for granted. It is as if we are passengers on the train of the Church, which has been moving forward gradually and methodically. Sometimes we have looked out the window and thought, “That looks kind of fun out there. This train is so restrictive.” So, we have jumped off and gone and played in the woods for a while. Sooner or later, we find it isn’t as much fun as Lucifer makes it appear or we get critically injured, so we work our way back to the tracks and see the train ahead. With a determined sprint we catch up to it, breathlessly wipe the perspiration from our forehead, and thank the Lord for repentance.”

It is eerily similar to the dream Lehi had of the Tree of Life, recorded in 1 Nephi, chapter 8. I feel awful for those who partook of the fruit, and afterward felt ashamed. Verse 24 through 28 of chapter 8 reads, “And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree, they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed. And… on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; … And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit. And after they had tasted of the fruit, they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost.”

These are people who have already partaken of sacred covenants. Covenants of baptism and temple covenants! The world somehow makes them feel ashamed of their righteousness. My wife and I know of people who once were faithful members of the church who allowed the enticing of the devil to creep into their lives and slowly erode their testimonies until there was nothing left.

Brothers and Sisters, stay on the train, stay on the path, continue to progress using your agency for good, do not stay stagnant, and repent often. “Rise up, O men and women of God,” put those things which are keeping you in the mosquito infested mire behind you, and allow the Lord to be your guide. Stop making excuses, stop skipping out on the second hour of church. As if the change from three hours to two hours wasn’t somehow enough.

Start listening to and following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real, and they love you, and they expect each of us to live up to our eternal potential. Of this I testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Author: Christian R. Mills

(Citations contained in-text)

No comments:

Post a Comment