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)

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…

Friday, September 21, 2018

My Thoughts on Time Travel

Article written by Christian R. Mills, 2018

One of the most exotic and amazing concepts ever used in science fiction is Time Travel. The ability to get into a machine, pull a lever, and travel into the distant future, or even the distant past, is enticing. Whole television shows, books, and films have all relied on Time Travel as a plot. Many of these culminated in all sorts of complex paradoxes, all for the sake of drama!

The ability to time travel would open up so many possibilities to learn and to observe, both the past and the future! However, with it comes a whole host of dangerous problems. Among these are some of the most popular and most discussed paradoxes, the grandfather paradox. "The name comes from the paradox's common description: a person travels to the past and kills their own grandfather before the conception of their father or mother, which prevents the time traveler's existence" (Wikipedia article of the same name).

"Similar to the Grandfather Paradox which paradoxically prevents your own birth, the Killing Hitler paradox erases your own reason for going back in time to kill him. Furthermore, while killing Grandpa might have a limited “butterfly effect”, killing Hitler would have far-reaching consequences for everyone in the world, even if only for the fact you studied him in school. The paradox itself arises from the idea that if you were successful, then there would be no reason to time travel in the first place. If you killed Hitler then none of his actions would trickle down through history and cause you to want to make the attempt. A Predestination Paradox occurs when the actions of a person traveling back in time becomes part of past events, and may ultimately causes the event he is trying to prevent to take place. This results in a ‘temporal causality loop’ in which Event 1 in the past influences Event 2 in the future (time travel to the past) which then causes Event 1 to occur, with this circular loop of events ensuring that history is not altered by the time traveler, and that any attempts to stop something from happening in the past will simply lead to the cause itself, instead of stopping it. This paradox suggests that things are always destined to turn out the same way, and that whatever has happened must happen." (See footnote 1)

These are only a few examples of popular paradoxes, but there are many more. So much more in fact that one might get a headache just from thinking about it! No matter what will be said about time travel, there will still be reputable Physicists who will dedicate their lives to the study of and (hopefully) the eventual discovery of time travel. Despite the fact that every one of us are currently traveling into the future at a rate of one second per second, I hope to show here that there will never be "time travel." And yes, like many other things in this blog, I will be using some theological reasons to support my claim as well...

To start off, I'd like to use a direct quote from Wikipedia. I know, I know, no respectful person uses Wikipedia as a source... But hey, Wikipedia is one of the more accurate places to gather information. It can be immediately updated with the most accurate information, the sheer number of contributors (including reputable ones) are very possessive of the information and tend to keep it as accurate as it can be, it is constantly under "peer review", and there is a growing number of citations on each page pointing to where the information is coming from. Now, I wouldn't use it to base an entire research paper on, but it is reputable enough to use for information... Which is exactly what I'll be doing here...

An article titled Conservation of Mass has this to say, "The law of conservation of mass or principle of mass conservation states that for any system closed to all transfers of matter and energy, the mass of the system must remain constant over time, as system's mass cannot change, so quantity cannot be added nor removed. Hence, the quantity of mass is conserved over time. The law implies that mass can neither be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, or the entities associated with it may be changed in form." Now, let us consider the entire universe as a whole to be a closed system. If it were not a closed system, then the big bang becomes meaningless, and there was mass and/or energy existing outside the "universe" before it went"bang." Also, I like to use the quote from the book Doctrine and Covenants, which is a book of scripture used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In Section 93 of the same, we read (italics added)
29 Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.
30 All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
31 Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.
32 And every man whose spirit receiveth not the light is under condemnation.
33 For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy;
34 And when separated, man cannot receive a fullness of joy.
35 The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples; and whatsoever temple is defiled, God shall destroy that temple.
36 The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.
I use this quote because it is very reminiscent of the Law of Conservation of Mass as well as the First Law of Thermodynamics. Thus, we are to understand that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. Meaning, with Einstein's famous equation E = mc2 giving us the conversion factor between matter and energy, there must be a finite amount of the sum of all the matter and all the energy existent in the universe. The Biblical word used in Genesis is "create," but I like to think of it more like "organize." Thus God "organized" the earth and all that is on it, mostly out of matter that already existed somewhere, just in another form, or possibly void of any form. Simple matter or energy in open space that needed a bit of a kick to get going...

Just looking at this information, if a person were to invent time travel some time in the future (distant or near, doesn't matter), just sending something or someone forward or backward in time would lead to dire and disastrous consequences. Imagine, if you will, a man sitting in his time machine and setting the dial to take him back to, say, the year 1985 (I wonder where I got that year, lol). The machine with the time traveler dissolves from our time only to appear in 1985. Seems like it would be awesome, right? Now, the material with which the time machine and the time traveler are made of, every particle - electron, proton, neutron, quark, or vibrating strand of energy (for those who subscribe to string theory) - already exists in 1985. Hopefully I don't need to give a heavy discourse on the "circle of life" (thank you Disney and Elton John). I will say that we should already know that every particle with which everything around us is made already existed before it took the form it is currently in. Every tree is made of carbon, oxygen, and water. That water came from the soil. That soil contains nutrients that came from dead and decayed biomatter, such as animals and other plants. Other animals come along and eat those plants, and in many cases, something else comes along and eats those animals and so on. So, this time traveler and his machine are both composed of particles and elements that have existed somewhere and will continue to exist somewhere for the rest of time and for all eternity. Therefore, the instant the time traveler and the time machine materialize in 1985, the elements with which the pair are made instantly annihilate, vaporize, or disappear because those materials automatically recognize that they already exist somewhere else!

Now, if they don't automatically vaporize, then the material that would have existed in the location where the machine and traveler materialize would have to go somewhere. If you read about the "butterfly effect," you'll know that even the slightest tremor in the space-time continuum would cause rippling effects throughout all of the known universe. I'm exaggerating, of course, but you get the idea. However, in all reality, either the matter with which the traveler and machine are made cannot be duplicated in any other time or place, or the matter that the traveler and machine are composed of would cease to exist wherever it was located before the traveler and machine materialized. If this were not the case, then it would be possible to steal matter from either the future or the past and bring it to the present to do whatever we wanted to do with it. That opens up a whole other issue of potentially doubling the amount of matter or energy in the universe which would cause it to collapse in on itself...

The next thing I would like to add to the discussion deals with "cause and effect." When the paradoxes were listed above, many of them dealt with the results of cause and effect. However, what we sometimes fail to realize is the magnitude of the issue. In the 1996 film "The Time Machine," with Guy Pearce as Alexander Hartdegen, the protagonist loses his fiance to an accident, and thus builds the time machine to go back and save her. He succeeds at first, only to find out that she dies another way. The viewer is left wondering at some point how many times Professor Hartdegen travels back in time to try and save her only to watch her death over and over again in as many different ways. It's not until later on in the film that Hartdegen has a conversation with a person in the future and we learn that the only reason he built the time machine was because Emma (his fiance) dies. If she doesn't die, he doesn't build the machine. If he doesn't build the time machine, he never goes back to save her. Thus, the paradox.

In most cases I can think of, the future invention of the first time machine would be followed by the use of said machine by the first time traveler to go back to a specific time period for the sake of doing something specific. Whether it's to witness the destruction of the dinosaurs, to watch the parting of the Red Sea, be present at the birth of Jesus Christ, attend the signing of the Declaration of Independence, or to find out who actually shot President Kennedy, there is always a reason for the time travel. In some cases, a person might travel back into one's own past in order to inspire greatness (as in the case of Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly takes a copy of a sports almanac from 2015 back to himself in 1985, but accidentally loses it to Biff in 1955), or to correct a big mistake that led to a regret. In cases such as these, once the deed has been done and the source of regret taken care of, the person no longer has the reason to travel into the past to begin with. Not to mention the moral and ethical implications of never having learned from the action at all!

The 1999 film Galaxy Quest contains a plot device called the Omega 13. At the end of the film we discover that the device travels the entire universe backwards 13 seconds. The character Tawny Madison (played by Sigourney Weaver) asks, "What good would it do to only travel back 13 seconds?" Commander Peter Quincy Taggart (played by Tim Allen) responds, "It would be just enough time to redeem a single mistake." Sure, the Omega 13 plot device plays heavily into the finale of the film, but redeeming a mistake equates to never getting a chance to learn from it.

Part of who we are as a people, and individually as a person, is the sum total of every experience, decision, sight, sound, touch, feeling, emotion, and memory that we have ever had. If we travel back into time to change an event on purpose, then we never have the opportunity to experience that event (whether for good or for bad) and we change the very essence of who we are, or were, or used to be, or could have become (temporal mechanics gives me a headache). The result being, we never give ourselves a chance to actually learn the difference between good and evil, or experience joy and pain, or any of the other things that bring us closer to becoming who we should ultimately be becoming. Even more disastrous would be the time traveler's desire to not change something from their own past but to actually change the past for someone else. In this case, they would not only be affecting their own free will or moral agency, but also affecting the agency of others... And agency is a universal law of existence! Not to get overly religious here, but agency is not free, it was paid for by the blood and body of the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We may not be able to control the world around us, but it will always be in our power to control how we react to it. Traveling through time to change a decision, or to "redeem a single mistake," removes that power.

In conclusion, time travel may be a wonderful plot device for science fiction films and stories, but it will never be possible, and cannot be possible! As fantastic as it would be to witness some of the world's greatest events, we will be stuck reading about them in our history books, and left to make history ourselves.

- Christian R. Mills

1 http://www.astronomytrek.com/5-bizarre-paradoxes-of-time-travel-explained/

Image Credits:
1. The Time Machine (1996), with Alexander Hartdegen played by Guy Pearce, in the Time Machine.
2. Back to the Future II (1989) with Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
3. Doctor Who (2011) with Matt Smith as The Doctor, posing with the TARDIS.
4. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989), with Alex Winter & Keanu Reeves, movie scene.
5. Galaxy Quest (1999), the intrepid crew of the N.S.E.A. Protector.

Personal Potential - Sunday Talk

The following discourse was written by me and delivered in a Sunday service in August of 2017.

I have a question I don’t want you to respond to, but to just ponder: How many people here today know for a fact that they will make it to the Kingdom of God, also known as the Celestial Kingdom?

My wife had an experience many years ago in a Gospel Doctrine class where those in attendance were asked that very same question by their instructor. Only a handful of members present in that class responded in the affirmative. This bothered me when she related this experience to me shortly thereafter, and my wife and I have had conversations about this topic on numerous occasions.

My feelings are that many people do not understand, or they limit their own understanding of, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I don’t pretend to fully and completely comprehend it either. But it may be possible that I either have a different perspective on the Atonement than most, or I have never been taught that I am beyond the ability to be perfected through the Atonement.

In this most recent General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a talk at the conclusion of the Saturday morning session titled “Be Ye Therefore Perfect – Eventually.” In this talk he says, and I quote directly:
Around the Church I hear many who struggle with this issue: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” I hear this from teenagers. I hear it from missionaries. I hear it from new converts. I hear it from lifelong members. 
What I now say in no way denies or diminishes any commandment God has ever given us. I believe in His perfection, and I know us are His spiritual sons and daughters with divine potential to become as He is. I also know that, as children of God, we should not demean or vilify ourselves, as if beating up on ourselves is somehow going to make us the person God wants us to become. No! With a willingness to repent and a desire for increased righteousness always in our hearts, I would hope we could pursue personal improvement in a way that doesn’t include getting ulcers or anorexia, feeling depressed or demolishing our self-esteem. 
To put this issue in context, May I remind all of us that we live in a fallen world and for now we are a fallen people. We are in the telestial kingdom; that is spelled with a t, not a c. 
My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call “toxic perfectionism.” We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and of others and, I might add, of those who are called to serve in the Church,which for Latter day Saints means everyone, for we are all called to serve somewhere.

The Atonement literally is the right to all wrongs, and that which satisfied the demands of justice. It is infinite and eternal. Those two words have no boundaries or limits. And neither do we. We were eternal beings long before our Father in Heaven gave us spiritual form. We were eternal beings when our Father in Heaven gave us our spiritual bodies before we came to this planet. We continue to be eternal beings now that we have received our physical bodies. We will continue to be eternal beings long after this life is over...

Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "Because we have all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” and because “there cannot any unclean thing enter into the kingdom of God,” every one of us is unworthy to return to God’s presence. Even if we were to serve God with our whole souls, it is not enough, for we would still be “unprofitable servants.” We cannot earn our way into heaven; the demands of justice stand as a barrier, which we are powerless to overcome on our own. But all is not lost. The grace of God is our great and everlasting hope. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the plan of mercy appeases the demands of justice “and [brings] about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.” Our sins, though they may be as scarlet, can become white as snow. Because our beloved Savior “gave himself a ransom for all,” entrance into His everlasting kingdom is provided unto us. The gate is unlocked!"

What does the phrase "eternal progression" mean? Elder D. Todd Christofferson said in 2015, "It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness” of all He can give." He also said, "No one is predestined to receive less than all that the Father has for His children."

As a mathematician, I am bound every day to axioms, postulates, and theorems. As a physicist, I know there are universal laws by which the universe is governed. One universal law of heaven is the Law of Justice. President Ezra Taft Benson taught, "God’s law is irrevocable. It applies to all, whether they believe in God or not. Everyone is subject to its penalties, no matter how one tries to rationalize or ignore them."

However, perhaps the most important universal law of heaven is free agency. Free agency cannot be revoked or denied. Lucifer tried, and failed. As long as we are exercising our agency to continue on the road to perfection and exaltation, we will continually be allowed to progress.

God's work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. His work and glory is to lead others in the direction of being like him. We were all intelligences before the foundation of the world. Our intelligence was given a spiritual frame. That spiritual frame was given a physical body when we kept our first estate and came here. The resurrection, granted to all of us by the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ, guarantees the inseparable connection and perfection of the combination of the three. The Atonement satisfies the demands of Justice. Our obedience allows the Atonement to work on our behalf. The Atonement will never expire.

D&C 45:3-5 states, "Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life."

Once again, the Atonement is both infinite and it is eternal. There is no one single "judgement day" in the classical sense. I always imagined in my youth that my judgment day would be this horrible experience where all of God's creation would sit in a movie theater and watches every embarrassing and regrettable moment that has ever happened in my life. I often need to remind myself that the Lord would not give us a commandment that he knew we could not keep.

D&C 58:42 says, "Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie said in an address in 1982, "everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out of this life while he's on the straight and narrow, he's going to go on to eternal reward in his Father's kingdom. We don't need to get a complex or a feeling that you have to be perfect to be saved. You don't. There's only been one perfect person, and that's the Lord Jesus, but in order to be saved in the Kingdom of God and in order to pass the test of mortality, what you have to do is get on the straight and narrow path, thus charting a course leading to eternal life, and then, being on that path, pass out of this life in full fellowship. I'm not saying that you don't have to keep the commandments. I'm saying you don't have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved."

Elder Holland quoted Elder George Q. Cannon in a talk given in 2016, “No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, [God] will never desert us. He never has, and He never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character [to do so]. … He will [always] stand by us. We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them.”

So, next time Satan gets you down, or next time you feel like you'll never make it, or next time someone asks how many of you can guarantee that you will make it to the Celestial Kingdom, don't sell yourself short! If you want to be there in the end with God, then by all means, keep trying!

To quote my favorite poet, Robert Frost,

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Elder Holland finishes his talk by adding, “If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete.”

Stay true to the faith, "try to cross the straight and narrow as often as [you] can," keep the commandments, and we will all see each other again on the other side of the veil. This is true Gospel. God loves us.

In the name of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.