That They May Know How to Come unto Him and Be Saved

Chad H Webb

Chad H Webb

Administrator of Seminaries & Institutes of Religion

Devotional
March 22, 2016
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I am very grateful to be with you wonderful students on this beautiful campus. Thank you for coming so prepared to learn.I want to begin by sharing with you a story that was told of a baseball team. This baseball team had a manager who thought that if his players took turns playing all the positions, they would become a better team. So, during one game the manager called time out, walked onto the field, and told the third baseman and the first baseman to switch positions. The problem in this instance was that the third baseman had never played anything but third base. From the time he was a child, he had practiced scooping up ground balls and throwing them across the field to first base. And now he was playing in a professional game in a large stadium with a lot of fans and a lot of pressure, and he was asked to play a position he had never played.The next hitter was a large, left-handed batter who hit a scorching ground ball to the newly appointed first baseman. The players years of experience kicked into gear, and he easily reached down and scooped up the ground ball. But reacting more than thinking, he raised his arm to throw the ball across the fieldnot remembering that first base was just a few steps away. As he did this, the runner, whose only option was to run to first base, stopped immediately in his tracks, thinking that the first baseman was about to throw the ball at him.Everyone started yelling to the first baseman to just touch first base. But in all the confusion and noise, this young player was not thinking clearly. So when he saw the catcher throw off his mask and raise his arms, yelling something that he couldnt understand, the first baseman decided to throw the ball to the catcher.Now the runner was confused because the catcher and the first baseman began throwing the ball back and forth to each other. Even though a runner cannot return to home plate, he was trying not to be tagged out. So he made a break for the first open base he thought he could reach safelyhome plate. As he dived into home, the catcher caught the ball and tagged him.The umpire yelled, Youre out!The catcher turned to the umpire and asked, And what if he had been safe?Its kind of an odd story. Those who understand baseball know that the first baseman should have clearly known what to do, and the runner should have known as well. But in all the noise and chaos, what seems so obvious and simple became very confusing.At times we may feel like these baseball players and find it difficult to cut through all the noise and confusion in the world around us and recognize the simple truth.Think about how well Lehis vision describes this challenge. In his dream, there were some who made it to the tree and stayed faithful. But there were others who were confused by the mist or drawn away by the numerous enticing and persuasive voices of those in the great and spacious building. These individuals ended up being drowned in the depths of the river or lost in strange and forbidden paths. Some even arrived at the tree and experienced the joy of partaking of the fruit, but they were later ashamed and wandered off.[i]So heres my question: Why does it sometimes seem so difficult to find and hold on to truth?For some it may be that they simply do not know where to find truth.[ii]Others, like the baseball players and those in Lehis vision, may be confused by all the voices. In a world that values the tolerance and acceptance of any type of behavior, we may feel embarrassed to speak up for or to live what we believe to be true. And if we begin to fear others and regard their opinions more than the Lords commandments, it can create a mist that blinds us from the eternal realities of our Father in Heaven and His gospel.For others it may be difficult to find and hold on to truth because they want to rely on their own reasoning and logic rather than turn to the Lord. Pride may lead us to care more about being right than knowing and choosing the right. Or we may become complacent, thinking that all is well in Zion,[iii]and simply wander away. We may stop doing the basic things that gave us a testimony in the first place and then wake up one day surprised by how far from the strait and narrow path we have strayed. For others it may be difficult because the wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, . . . and because of the tradition of their fathers.[iv]For all of these reasons and more, President Henry B. Eyring said, We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception. [v]All of this opposition can be discouraging. But there is hope. This is our Heavenly Fathers world and, as His children, we are living through His plan. We can trust Him completely, relying on His wisdom, His love, and His power to help us. He knows all things and is the source of all truth.[vi]He has promised to reveal truth to our minds and hearts through the Holy Ghost if we will diligently seek Him.[vii]Nephi highlighted the eternal significance of this idea when he prophesied: Wherefore, they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer and the very points of his doctrine, that they may know how to come unto him and be saved.[viii]That is why our quest for truth is essential in our quest for eternal life. If we do not know Gods doctrine, if we do not understand and follow divine, eternal truth, we cannot know how to come to Him to be saved and redeemed.To that end, the Lord has established divinely ordained patterns and has revealed the principles and conditions upon which we can come to know Him and by which we can learn eternal truth. We might be tempted to think that we can set the terms and conditions. But it has always been the Lord who determines what we must do to come to know the things of the Spirit. He requires that we have an earnest desire to know the truth[iv]and that we are willing to follow it.[x]Acquiring spiritual knowledge often requires, as it did for Enos, that we wrestle before God, that our soul hungers, and that we call out in mighty prayer.[xi] It will require that we not only search the scriptures but that we search diligently.[xii]But even after having put forth this effort, there may be times when we discover new information that seems difficult to understand or when we have questions regarding the doctrine, practices, or history of the Church that seem difficult to answer. This might happen when we come across new information during our personal study, or it might happen when someone challenges our faith. Whatever the reason, there will be times when we each have questions. May I suggest four principles that can bless and help you during these crucial occasions?Number one: The attitude and intent with which we ask questions will greatly affect our ability to learn from the Holy Ghost.Asking questions and seeking answers is a vital part of our effort to learn truth. Inspired questions should be considered gifts from God that provide opportunities for us to increase our understanding and to draw closer to Him. The scriptures and Church history are full of examples. The First Vision came in response to a question. Many sections in the Doctrine and Covenants are evidence that the Lord teaches us when we study, ponder, pray, and ask inspired questions.One example is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 138. Due to world events such as World War I and an influenza epidemic, and after the personal and tragic loss of several of his children, President Joseph F. Smith longed to better understand the condition of spirits that leave this earth. With that question pressing on his heart and mind, he turned to the scriptures for answers. President Smith explained:As I pondered over [the scriptures], the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.[xiii]This remarkable revelation was given because of President Smiths willingness to pray and to study and because he had a burning question.The scriptures also show us that the intent of our questions will greatly influence our ability to learn and understand the things of the Spirit. To illustrate, as Alma and Amulek were teaching the people of Ammonihah, many of the people, including a man named Zeezrom, began to ask them questions. Listen to how the scriptures describe their questions and the reasons for their questions:There were some among them who thought to question [Alma and Amulek], that by their cunning devices they might catch them in their words, that they might find witness against them. . . .And there was one among them whose name was Zeezrom. Now he was the foremost to accuse Amulek and Alma.[xiv]In other words, the intent of their questions was to entrap, to find fault, and to accuse.When Zeezrom was later converted to the gospel, he still had questions. But notice how his intent changed:Zeezrom began to inquire of them diligently, that he might know more concerning the kingdom of God [and] the resurrection of the dead, that all shall rise from the dead . . . to stand before God to be judged.[xv]So, rather than asking questions to criticize, Zeezrom began asking questions because he really wanted to learn. He had heard of the judgment day, and he wanted to prepare himself. He began to humbly ask questions because he wanted to know and follow eternal truth. Our attitude and intent will also have much to do with our own ability to learn the things the Lord would like to teach us.The second principle: When we turn to the Lord in faith, holding fast to what we already know to be true, additional spiritual knowledge and understanding will come.We act in faith when we choose to trust God and turn to Him first in our efforts to acquire and understand spiritual knowledge. We act in faith as we keep His commandments and watch for evidence of His promised blessings. Acting in faith includes doing those things that will invite the Spirit as we search for further understanding. Elder M. Russell Ballard shared this example:One of our outstanding missionaries that served with us in the Canada Toronto Mission years ago came to my office in Salt Lake City. During our visit, he told me that he was losing his faith and his testimony and that he had many questions. I asked him to write down his questions and promised to find answers to them, certainly as many as I could. As he was about to leave . . . I said, Elder, how long has it been since you have studied the scriptures; specifically, how long has it been since you have read from the Book of Mormon? He lowered his head and said he had not been doing that. I gave him an assignment to begin reading the Book of Mormon for an hour each day while I worked to prepare answers to his questions. He agreed to do so.Two weeks later, he came back to my office, and as he entered in and sat down he said, President, I dont need answers to those questions anymore. I did what you askedI know the Book of Mormon is true and I know Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I was very happy to hear that but said, Elder, I spent a long time answering your questions so you will have to sit down and hear the answers! What a joy! The Spirit and light of the gospel had returned to him. I commended him and gave him a big hug before he left.[xvi]As we act in faith through study, prayer, and obedience, we invite the Holy Ghost to dispel uncertainty and to reaffirm the testimony we have already been given of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught:In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited. . . . When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. . . . The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issueit is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know.. . . I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have. . . . Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, dont let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle.[xvii]Although Heavenly Father has revealed all that is necessary for our salvation, He has not yet revealed all truth. As we continue to seek for answers, we must live by faith.[xviii]The Lord has promised that as we are faithful, He will give us additional light, knowledge, and truth, line upon line, precept upon precept.[xix]There is an interesting example in the history of the Church that illustrates the difference between doubtingwhich often leads to darkness and uncertaintyand patient and intelligent inquirywhich leads to understanding and spiritual confirmation. When the Prophet Joseph Smith received the vision concerning the three degrees of glory, which is in section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, many members of the Church, including Brigham Young, initially had a difficult time accepting it as a revelation from the Lord because it departed significantly from the mainstream Christian view of one heaven and one hell. However, listen to how Brigham chose to respond: My traditions were such, that when the Vision came first to me, it was so directly contrary and opposite to my former education, I said, wait a little, I did not reject it, but I could not understand it.[xx]Brigham decided to exercise patience, to pray, to ponder, and to seek clarification from the prophet. But while he sought further understanding, he did not let go of what he had come to love in the restored gospel.[xxi]And soon, he obtained his own witness from the Holy Ghost.Letting go of our blessings in the Church because of an unanswered question would be like the person who visited Temple Square, in Salt Lake City, in the springtime. As he walked through the grounds, enjoying the countless beautiful flowers, he noticed a weed. It bothered him that in such a scenic place, with thousands of stunning flowers, someone had failed to pull one particular weed. The rest of the day, his focus remained on the weed and he completely forgot about all the beautiful flowers that had previously given him so much joy.Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once asked:What conceivable historical or doctrinal or procedural issue that may arise among any group could ever overshadow or negate ones consuming spiritual conviction regarding the Fathers merciful plan of salvation; His Only Begotten Sons birth, mission, Atonement, and Resurrection; the reality of the First Vision; the restoration of the priesthood; the receipt of divine revelation, both personally and institutionally; the soul-shaping spirit and moving power of the Book of Mormon; the awe and majesty of the temple endowment; ones own personal experience with true miracles; and on and on and on? Talk about a question! It is a mystery to me how those majestic, eternal, first-level truths so central to the grandeur of the whole gospel message can be set aside or completely dismissed by some in favor of obsessing over second- or third- or fourth-level pieces of that whole.[xxii]To protect ourselves from this tragic mistake, we cannot become embarrassed, distracted, prideful, or even just casual in our private religious observance and devotion. The cost is too great. Remaining steadfast in our spiritual conviction of the majestic, eternal, first-level truths mentioned by Elder Holland brings blessings that simply cannot be replaced by anything the world has to offer. For me, these truths are the pillars of my testimony and faith. They are the things I have learned through the Holy Ghost and have come to love. They have connected me to heaven. And I know that God knows what He has taught me, and I cannot deny it or turn away from it.[xxiii]I know that many of you have had similar experiences with learning through the Holy Ghost. I know that you are faithfully holding on to what you know to be true. Thank you for standing for truthalways with kindness and compassion, but faithfully standing for truth. When you do, you may feel that you are alone, but you are not. When you stand for truth, you stand with the Lord and with His prophets.Principle number three: As we examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective, we are better able to cut through the confusion and recognize eternal truth.When we examine doctrinal concepts, questions, and social issues with an eternal perspective, we consider them in the context of the plan of salvation and the teachings of the Savior. We seek the help of the Holy Ghost in order to see things as the Lord sees them.[xxiv]We may need to reframe questions or view them within the framework or context of the Lords standard of truth rather than accept the worlds premises or assumptions.[xxv]Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught this principle brilliantly. He said:Because of our knowledge of [the plan of salvation] and other truths that God has revealed, we start with different assumptions than those who do not share our knowledge. As a result, we reach different conclusions on many important subjects that others judge only in terms of their opinions about mortal life. . . .. . . [We] will often be better off to respond by identifying the worldly premises or assumptions in the assertions [we] face and then by identifying the different assumptions or premises that guide the thinking of Latter-day Saints.[xxvi]This is a profound idea. If we begin with an eternal perspective, we will arrive at conclusions that reflect eternal truth. But if we begin with worldly assumptions, we are likely to arrive at worldly conclusions. So we may need to reframe some questions because we simply do not accept the premises on which they are based.For example, you have probably been asked, Shouldnt any two people who love each other be able to marry? From the perspective of much of the world, the answer would seem to be yes. But think about what you know about the plan of salvation and about Heavenly Fathers purpose for marriage. The plan of salvation provides an eternal perspective and a gospel premise that reframes the question. Some questions you may consider are Why is the family ordained of God? or Why has the Lord established marriage between a man and a woman? Think about what you know about the spirit children of Heavenly Fatherwhere they come from and what He wants for them now and in the eternities. Think about why He has blessed us with the power to seal families in temples. How does your understanding of these principles reframe the question and allow you to see the issue through the light of the gospel?An example of putting this specific question into the context of the plan of salvation was provided by Sister Julie B. Beck, former general president of the Relief Society. She reminded us of the three pillars of the plan of salvationthe Creation, the Fall, and the Atonementsuggesting that these are also the pillars of the doctrine of the family. She taught:The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. . . .The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. . . .The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally.[xxvii]Understanding the central role of families in the plan of salvation helps us to understand that true and lasting happiness, both in this life and in the eternities, is found in forming a family with eternal potential.One faithful young woman was placed in a difficult position when a friend confided to her and others that she was being tempted by feelings regarding same-gender attraction, which were affecting her feelings about morality. She asked them to be supportive of her decision to act on those feelings. The faithful young woman, armed with an understanding of the doctrine of the family and the importance of eternal ordinances, expressed her love for her friend but respectfully and kindly asked, Knowing this is your challenge in life, how do you plan to keep your covenants?When you consider your understanding of Gods plan and purposes, you begin with a different premise and you then arrive at different conclusions.Let me share another example of keeping an eternal perspective. Recently a series of newspaper articles reported that some millennials are choosing spirituality over organized religion.[xxviii]Using this example, lets imagine that a friend says to you, You can feel close to God without being religious. Wouldnt you rather come enjoy His creations than sit in church meetings?If the question is Can you feel close to God while enjoying His creations? the answer is absolutely yes. But lets reframe the real question, which is about spirituality and organized religion. What do you know about Heavenly Fathers desire for His children? Is it just to feel close to Him, or is it to become like Him and for each of us to receive eternal life?[xxix]And what role does attending Church play in whether we receive those ultimate blessings?First, Jesus organized and then restored His Church in order to provide priesthood keys and revelation[xxx]so that we might know how to follow Him. Secondly, His Church is the vehicle by which we can have access to saving ordinances and covenants. Appreciating Heavenly Fathers creations and feeling close to Him is critically important, but our Heavenly Father wants us to have and be even more. He wants us to be forgiven, healed, and changed. He wants us to grow and to become like Him so that we may enjoy all that He enjoys. That can happen only through receiving the ordinances He has establishedincluding regularly partaking of the sacramentand keeping the covenants associated with those ordinances.Do you see how reframing the question with an eternal perspective dramatically impacts our conclusion? If the question is Can we feel close to God in nature? the answer is yes. If the question is Should we spend Sundays at the beach or in the mountains rather than attend our Church meetings? the answer is Not without missing an opportunity to keep and renew sacred covenants that will allow us access to the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ[xxxi]in our lives. Not without missing the opportunity to seek forgiveness and healing. Not without missing an opportunity to claim the promised blessing of having His Spirit to be with us.[xxxii]Not without missing the opportunity to learn from priesthood leaders who hold keys to guide and direct us. And not without forfeiting the opportunity to serve in the Lords Church and kingdom, restored to this earth in the latter days.Lets not let a question based on the wrong premise confuse us and cause us to listen to the wrong voices or to run the wrong way.Heres the fourth and last principle: Seeking knowledge and understanding from the Lords divinely appointed sources dispels darkness, doubt, and confusion.As part of the Lords appointed process for obtaining spiritual knowledge, He has established trustworthy sources through which He reveals truth to His children. He has blessed us with Church leaders and parents to give us guidance. He has given us the scriptures and the gift of the Holy Ghost, which are essential in our efforts to frame questions in an eternal perspective and to find eternal truth. He has given us the gift of latter-day prophets, seers, and revelators. They are a vital and authoritative source of truth. The Lord has chosen and ordained His prophets and apostles to speak for Him[xxxiii] so that in a world of so many opinions we can with confidence know what is true.While we can also learn truth through other trustworthy sources, sincere seekers of truth should be wary of unreliable sources of information. We live in a time when many call evil good, and good evil.[xxxiv]Satan is the father of lies and deception, and he seeks to distort truth and persuade us to turn away from the Lord and His appointed servants. Learning to recognize and avoid unreliable sources can protect us from misinformation and from those who seek to destroy faith.Speaking to members of His newly organized Church in the latter days, the Lord said:Thou shalt give heed unto all his [the Prophet Josephs] words and commandments. . . .For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you.[xxxv]Lets avoid the trap of thinking that if prophets and apostles are simply giving counsel or policy, we will only agree or follow it if it is convenient or if it meets with our own social, financial, or intellectual aspirations. If we do not understand something that they have taught, we should go directly to their words to seek further understanding instead of relying on what someone else is saying about it second or third hand. Then, after we have studied the teachings of these prophets and apostles, we should turn to the Lord in prayer to help us further understand His mind and will. As Elder M. Russell Ballard recently taught, James did not say, If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google![xxxvi] There is too much at stake. If you lack wisdom, ask of God.There is another important lesson from Lehis vision. When were taught about the great and spacious building, we are told that those in the building mocked those who were holding to the iron rod and those who had reached the tree. Have you ever wondered what the people in the great and spacious building were saying? Listen to what Nephi wrote:[The Lamb of God] was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.And after he was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb. . . .And the multitude of the earth was gathered together . . . in a large and spacious building. . . . And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great.[xxxvii]It saddens me that it is not just the world but some of the house of Israel that mock those holding to the rod. What do you think theyre saying? Whatever it is, its an attempt to fight against the Twelve Apostles of the Lord.What are you hearing in the world today? There are so many voices calling for your attention. Some are mocking sacred and eternal truths about the law of chastity and the crucial role of families. Theyre mocking decency and civility and obedience to Gods commandments. Theyre calling evil good and good evil. Theyre fighting against the Apostles of the Lamb of God and, therefore, against the Lord Himself.In my position in Church education, I have the privilege of associating with many Church leaders. I have heard them pray for you. I have heard them express their great love and concern for you. My experience has shown me that their motives are selfless and that their desire is to know and do the will of the Lord. You can trust that they want what is best for you, that they know that the pathway to happiness is in keeping the commandments. My experience has shown me that they are everything you would hope they would beand more.ConclusionNow before I conclude, I would like to share one last story. A few years ago I had the privilege of going to an early-morning devotional for seminary students in my home stake. The speaker was one of the editors of the Joseph Smith Papers project. He gave a wonderful talk about the Prophet Joseph.Toward the end of the presentation, he asked if any of the youth had questions. A number of hands went up, and it was quickly evident that he would not have time to answer every question. So after responding to a few individuals, he said, In my work on the Joseph Smith papers, I have read over 10,000 documents, including letters and documents written by Joseph Smith and many written to Joseph Smith. I have read his teachings and recorded revelations. I have read most of what was written about him by those who knew him best. In all of that, I have never read anything that caused me to doubt that Joseph Smith was Gods prophet. And if you have read or heard anything that causes you to doubt that, I am willing to stay and discuss any questions you might have, for as long as it takes. Most of the youth hurried off to school, but about 30 to 40 of them stayed. They lined up in the aisle of the chapel as this faithful historian came down from the stand to meet them.Let me give you an example of just one of their questions. The first young man asked, If Joseph Smith went like a lamb to the slaughter at Carthage Jail, why did he take a gun?The speaker responded that he had also asked that question and that he had looked for answers in historical accounts from those who personally knew the Prophet and were with him in Carthage Jail, including John Taylor. The speaker had learned that the pistol used by Joseph Smith had been left at the jail earlier that same day by Cyrus Wheelock, a friend of the Prophet. He also learned that one of the reasons John Taylor and Willard Richards had survived that day was because of Joseph Smiths courage in defending them. The mob had intended to simply go in through the door and shoot each person in the room. But when Joseph stuck the pistol out of the door and fired, the mob became frightened. Instead of bursting into the room, they pushed their guns around the doorframe and fired indiscriminately into the room, not wanting to put themselves in the line of fire. Then they quickly fled the prison in order to protect themselves.The speaker then pulled from his briefcase a statement from John Taylor, which included the following:I was blessed to be associated with Brother Joseph Smith. . . . And this is my testimony concerning [him]. I know before God and the holy angels. I do not think it; I know it. I know that he was a servant of God and prophet of the Lord and lived and died in the faith. I not only know it by my natural sight but by the revelations of God. I know that the desire of Joseph and of Hyrum was to promote peace . . . to promote the happiness and well being of the human family. . . . And although there are thousands of falsehoods in circulation concerning them, and although many of them are believed by the people, yet this was the bona fide feeling of these servants of God while they lived upon the earth; and I know it![xxxviii]As the students continued to ask their questions, I watched the speaker answer by turning to the teachings of prophets. When the questions were about the Prophet Joseph Smith and Church history, he would pull from his briefcase statements by those who knew the Prophet personally and had witnessed his love for people and for the Lord.Many young people went through the line. I watched as, one by one, they left content that their questions had been answered. They had each been given additional understanding and perspective, and they had been given something more. If they were observant, they had seen an example that they could follow. They had seen someone who has studied from reliable sources, who has paid a price in scholarship, and who has stayed rooted in his faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.My point in sharing that story is that we can find answers to our questions. As you and I go through life, including this divinely appointed process of coming to know and love our Father in Heaven, please do not be perplexed by all the noise and chaos in the world. Dont get confused like the baseball player who ran the wrong way. You know where to look for truth. You know where to turn for safety in a troubled world. And if all you can do is to run to first base and stand still until the noise subsides, then do that. But do not go back. Call upon your Heavenly Father. He is here to help youwith open and loving arms. Trust Him. He will lead you safely home. He will guide you in your quest to know His Son, the Redeemer of the world, and to know the very points of His doctrine, that you may know how to come unto Him and be saved.Of this I bear testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.[i]1 Nephi 8:2325, 28, 3132[ii]Doctrine and Covenants 123:12[iii]2 Nephi 28:2127.[iv]Doctrine and Covenants 93:39.[v]Henry B. Eyring, The Holy Ghost as Your Companion, Ens