Sunday, October 23, 2016

"Charity is One"

For several months now "The One" has been on my mind.  
I have heard countess talks addressing "The One" but one talk in particular given by Elder and Sister Renlund at this years BYU Women's Conference spoke to my soul.
The talk was entitled "One in Charity."

They referenced Paul's definition of Charity as found in 1 Corinthians 12: 1-13

"...Charity suffereth long, and is kind;
charity envieth not;
charity vaunteth not itself,
if not puffed up, 
Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own,
is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil...
Beareth all things,
believeth all things
hopeth all things,
endureth all things..."

And they also referenced Moroni's definition of Charity as found in Moroni 7:45-48

"And Charity suffereth long and is kind,
and envieth not and is not puffed up,
seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked,
thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in inquity
but rejoiceth  in the truth
beareth all things, believeth all things,
 hopeth all things, endureth all things..."

Upon learning of Charity in seminary at a young age my heart has yearned to have its traits.

As I have been reflecting on my journey to acquire Charity, I have been so blessed to have many one on one moments flood my memory.
Many of those moments for me were not grand stand showings but rather, one word of kindness, one smile, one sincere compliment, a listening ear, and a needed hug.

In a recent conference talk: "No Greater Joy Than to Know That They Know"
by  Elder K Brett Nattress 

Elder Nattress closed with this thought:

"...The gospel truly is about the one. 
It is about one lost sheep 
(see Luke 15:3–7); 

it is about one Samaritan woman at a well 
(see John 4:5–30); 

it is about one prodigal son 

And it is about one little boy 
who might claim he is not listening.
It is about each one of us—
as imperfect as we may be
becoming one with the Savior as 
He is one with His Father 
(see John 17:21)."
I believe his closing thoughts struck a chord with me because like him 
I was at one time "the little girl who didn't listen."
In closing I would like to share Elder and Sister Renlund's inspired words.
I hope that as you read their words you like me will want to become a part of their 
"Synergy"  of ones.

“One in Charity” 
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles 
Sister Ruth L. Renlund 
This address was given April 29, 2016 at the BYU Women’s Conference. 
© 2016 by Brigham Young University Women’s Conference. 
All rights reserved. 
For further information, write: BYU Women’s Conference 161 Harman 
Continuing Education Building Provo, Utah 84602 801-422-7692 
Elder Dale G. Renlund: Good afternoon, sisters.  Ruth and I are delighted to be here with you today. We recognize all the work that has gone into the BYU Women’s Conference make it both memorable and educational.                                                       The organizers and speakers have all done so well. 
Sister Ruth L. Renlund: And we thank you for attending this closing session.   Much has been said during the past two days about various facets of the theme, “One in Charity.”  Yet we have more to say.                                                                “One in Charity”—three simple words that can be understood in many different ways. 
Dale: One way to think about “One in Charity” is illustrated by an experience I had just a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday.  I went to the Utah State Prison to visit inmates. 
I met with several men who were in maximum security.  As I met with them one-on-one, they remained shackled.  One young man, whom I will call Bob, had committed serious crimes.  Though he had never been a member of the Church, he wanted to meet with me. Thirteen months earlier he had blamed a particular guard that some privileges were taken away from him.  When an opportunity arose, Bob attacked the guard.  Two other inmates, former members of the Church, restrained him, insisting that he really didn’t want to do what he was doing. Bob’s prison sentence was increased because of the altercation, but not as much as it would have been had those two men not restrained him.  Bob said being restrained was the first time in his life anyone had been kind to him.  Because of this one act of kindness,  Bob asked to have a religious volunteer meet with him after he got out of solitary confinement.  He has been meeting regularly with one of our bishops for about a year now.  Bob still has many years of incarceration ahead of him, but he has hope for a better future.  
This one act of kindness prompted him to significantly change his life, even though he is in prison. What is the lesson in this story? 
Two inmates who had lost their membership in the Church and who were confined to prison were kind, even charitable to another inmate. 
That changed the heart of another son of Heavenly Father. 

The lesson is that the Lord can use us wherever we are, if we allow Him, to bless the lives of others.
 Ruth: That is powerful! We all can make a difference, one to one.  Today, sisters, we would like to explore a few other ways “One in Charity” can be understood, depending on the emphasis and definitions used. 
Perhaps we should begin by defining what charity is.                                         How do you define charity?
Dale: The Apostle Paul gave a definition of charity that is best known.                 
His first epistle to the Corinthians addressed in part the lack of unity among the Saints. 
Corinth was a meeting place for many nationalities.           
Trade between Asia and Western Europe passed through its harbors.  Paul’s first visit lasted nearly two years, and his converts were both  Jews and Gentiles, Semitic and Greek.                                                               
This diversity would naturally lead to disunity when self-interest—and by extension, racial or tribal interest—came to the foreground.                   
Paul criticized the Saints for their partisanship and urged them to "be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” that they be one. 
Paul went on to address various divisive matters.                     
He then discussed how spiritual gifts can unite a congregation of Saints.  But he did not want them to think that the random pursuit of spiritual gifts was the best cure-all for their disunity.                                                                 
He stated, “But covet earnestly the best gifts:  and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” What does he mean by “a more excellent way?” 
Ruth: I think “a more excellent way” was charity.                                                 
Paul says that rather than seeking specific spiritual gifts, even though that would be helpful, “a more excellent way” was to develop a very specific characteristic or quality that is referred to as charity.                   
The word charity derives from the Greek word agape.  
Agape has been used as a verb in Greek from Homeric times.                               
It does not mean brotherly love, erotic love, or the kind of love I have for chocolate.  It does not mean giving alms, although a desire to do so stems from it. In the Greek, agape means open or agape, tolerance, fairness, and kindness. 
The King James Version of the Bible translates agape as charity.                           
In other versions of the Bible it is translated as love. 
 Dale: 1 Corinthians 13 reads like a dictionary trying to define agape.                     
Paul indicates that in the absence of agape, all spiritual gifts seem meaningless, becoming as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
 Ruth: And without agape, one could give all one’s “goods to feed the poor” and it would be of no profit. So one could be charitable but without the motivation that stems from agape—and that charitableness would be hollow. 
Dale: “A more excellent way” is to develop the characteristic or quality of agape, and many wonderful consequences result.                                                       
These consequences define agape itself.                                                             
 Agape “suffereth long,” “is kind,” “envieth not,” “vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” 
Ruth: Agape “doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil,” “rejoiceth not in iniquity.” 
Dale: “Rejoiceth in the truth,” “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” and “never faileth.”
 Ruth: That is quite a list! At the end of the chapter, Paul suggests that early on in our discipleship, we do not have a clear understanding of what being a disciple of the Savior entails.                                                      
We might try to develop these attributes by making to-do lists.  But later we will understand that when we develop agape, these attributes more naturally flow.                                                                     
We read in 1 Corinthians 13: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."                                                                                  
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:  now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." 
"And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three;  but the greatest of these is charity.”                                                                     
Paul is saying that the foundation of developing any of these desirable attributes is to develop agape. 
Dale: For centuries, Christians have worked to understand the meaning of agape. A Christian writer, the Reverend Benjamin A. Vima used agape to describe what he believed was the highest level of love known to humanity—a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well-being of the other.         
Tertullian, in his second-century defense of Christians, remarks how Christian love attracted pagan notice: “Such work of love (for so it is) puts a mark upon us, in the eyes of some. ‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they love one another’ (for themselves hate one another).”
 Ruth: The Book of Mormon also talks about agape but does not use the Greek word. For example, in Moroni 7, the English word charity is used to signify a word that we do not know, a word Mormon used as he spoke in a synagogue, a word that Moroni recorded in Reformed Egyptian.  But whatever the word was, it seems that he found it sufficiently complicated that like Paul, he gave us a dictionary description of what it is and what it isn’t. 
Whatever that complicated Reformed Egyptian word was, Mormon indicates that it is “the pure love of Christ”: “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ.”
 Dale: The pure love of Christ is what Paul tried to capture with the word agape. So with this understanding, what does the phrase “One in Charity” mean? 
Ruth: Where to start? As a phrase, “One in Charity” can be used as an exhortation— encouragement to join with other individuals to be united in being charitable, such as the newly introduced “I Was a Stranger” initiative. When we think about this phrase as an exhortation, we as individuals are strongly encouraged to voluntarily join together to help those in need. Our desire is to be charitable, but we want to do so in a united effort. This is a lofty goal. It builds on the concept of synergy, that many can do more than the sum of individuals. For instance, 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 8. I’m no mathematician, but 8 is clearly more than the sum of the individual parts. 
Dale: Synergy occurs because the capacity of the five grows as they work together, and because they qualify for heaven’s help. As we work together, our capacity grows, and we are able to accomplish even greater tasks in the future. 
Ruth: This echoes the beautiful hymn that was sung minutes ago, the closing line of which is, “Father, make us one with Thee, one in charity.”                               
We are all familiar with the concept that hymn describes, that of voluntarily helping others.                                                                 
President Monson once said, “None of us lives alone—in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s poverty.” Voluntarily helping others is a virtue prized and valued in many cultures.   We see it in the lives of women and men both ancient and modern.  We see it inside and outside the Church.                                                             
This concept is expressed in scripture and literature as well.                             
One of those literary works that expresses this concept of charity is found in the writings of the 19th-century Finnish author and poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. 
Dale: My father was born in northern Finland, outside the town of Jakobstad, which is also known as Pietasaari. My dad loved Finnish literature, especially the works of Runeberg. Like my father, Runeberg was born in Jakobstad. 
Dad would quote Finnish  literature to us as bedtime stories.         
These stories were really rather somber.  It seemed to us as children that the moral of these stories was “Fight valiantly against impossible odds and then die.”    It was like listening to the book of Job without the happy ending.                       
One of Runeberg’s poems that we heard over and over was the story of Farmer Paavo.  Paavo was a poor peasant farmer who lived with his wife and children in Saarij√§rvi, in the lake region of central Finland.                                             
Several years in a row, some combination of the runoff from the spring snowmelt, summer hailstorms, or an early autumn frost killed most of his crop.                 
Each time the meager harvest came in, his wife said, “Paavo, Paavo, you unfortunate old man, God has forsaken us.”  Paavo in turn said, “Woman, mix bark with the rye flour to make bread so we won’t go hungry. 
I will work harder to drain the marshy fields.  God is testing us, but He will provide.”  Every time the crop was destroyed, Paavo directed his wife to double the amount of bark that she mixed into the bread to ward off starvation.                 
Poor Paavo worked even harder. He dug ditches to drain the marsh, to decrease his fields’ susceptibility to the spring snowmelt and to the exposure of an early autumn frost. 
Finally Paavo harvested a rich crop. Overjoyed, his wife said, “Paavo, Paavo, these are happy times! It is time to throw away the bark and bake bread made only with the rye.” But Paavo took his wife’s hand and said, “Woman, mix half the flour with bark, for our neighbor’s fields have frosted over.”                                                               
Left unstated in the poem was Paavo’s intent to help his devastated, destitute neighbor.
 Ruth: What do you think your father was trying to teach you by repeatedly telling you this sad story? 
Dale: I think my father was teaching us that charitable giving is something we do because of our humanity. It is something we do because we care about our fellow human beings. The poem invites us to ask ourselves, what would we do if we were in Paavo’s shoes? Would we help this unfortunate neighbor? Would we in the future help others in need? 
Ruth: I believe this is what the late President Marion G. Romney taught so beautifully in 1982. “Service is not something we endure on this earth so we can earn the right to live in the celestial kingdom. Service is the very fiber of which an exalted life in the celestial kingdom is made.”                                                       
The impulse to help those in need is cross-cultural.  When we lived in Africa we learned of a concept called Ubuntu.  Like the Greek word agape, Ubuntu is not easily defined in English. It is the inclination to treat others with kindness, virtue, and goodness.  Nelson Mandela, the late president of the Republic of South Africa, explained an aspect of Ubuntu by saying that in the old days a traveler to a village would not need to ask for food—it would naturally be given him because of Ubuntu.      
Those who have, give. Those in need receive. 
Dale: The desire to help others underlies the organization of Relief Society on March 17, 1842. The Prophet Joseph Smith organized a group of women who lived in Nauvoo. Earlier, a few of the women had come to him seeking a way for the sisters of the Church to be organized to practice charity and help build the kingdom of God. He responded by organizing them into a society for the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes.
 Ruth: In the organizational meeting, Sister Sarah Cleveland proposed that the group be named the Female Relief Society. Elder John Taylor suggested that the word Benevolent be used instead of Relief. One objection to the word relief was that “the idea associated with it suggests some great calamity—that we intend appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting common occurrences.” This prompted Emma Smith to exclaim, “We are going to do something extraordinary!” Something extraordinary does indeed happen, in both common and uncommon circumstances, when individuals join together to help those in need—just as you have done during this conference. 
Dale: This initial interpretation of “One in Charity” is clearly powerful, and powerful examples can be found throughout the history of the Relief Society.                       
In fact, one of the statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith to the Relief Society sisters emphasized the power that comes by working together. 
He said, “By union of feeling we obtain power with God.”  However, there are more meanings to the phrase “One in Charity,” other than as an exhortation to unite with others in being charitable.
Ruth: Another way to look at “One in Charity” is that being “one” is actually a prerequisite to being charitable in the way the Lord wants us to be. To understand this meaning, we first need to understand what being “one” might entail. 
Being “one” clearly refers to being united is some way. 
We know that unity is central to doing the Lord’s work. 
Dale: Right. In His great intercessory prayer, the Savior prays for unity among His disciples. He says: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
 Ruth: The Savior’s prayer is so beautiful and teaches us the importance of being united with Him. But He also reports to the Father that the glory He received from the Father was given to the disciples. What “glory” is He referring to? 
Dale: The scriptural definitions of the glory of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ include intelligence. “The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth.” The Savior certainly received light and truth from Heavenly Father that He shared with the Apostles. But it is more likely that the glory spoken of relates to another scriptural definition of God’s glory. “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”  This suggests that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were and are absolutely united in their goal to help all of Heavenly Father’s children to return home.
Ruth: Unity wasn’t just required in the original Church. It is a scriptural mandate for the disciples to be united in this dispensation. The Savior instructed the early leaders of the Church in this dispensation, “Every decision made by either of these quorums [the Twelve and the Seventy] must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions.” The importance of being united or “one” to accomplish the mission of the Church is an important interpretation of this year’s theme. In other words, we must be united, or one, to be charitable in the Lord’s way.
Dale: As we see in this model, charity is the fruit of unity.  This means that the consequence of being united under the guidance of the Holy Ghost is charitable behavior. 
Ruth: However, remember that the purpose of Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians was to unify divergent communities of Saints. So the attribute of charity naturally leads to unity among the followers of the Savior. Stated differently, unity results from having the pure love of Christ. The relationship between unity and charity is symbiotic. Unity leads, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, to charitable actions. Having the attribute of charity leads to unity.  Unity results from having the pure love of Christ. Charity leads to unity, and unity leads to charity. 
Dale: Not only that, the symbiotic relationship between unity and charity is iterative, meaning that they grow sequentially and depend on each other.           
For instance, consider the starting point as charity, the pure love of Christ.  This leads to the Christlike quality of unity.  As one acts in faith and works in unity, Charity increases.  This increased charity leads to even greater unity, which in turn, when acted upon, leads to greater charity, and so on.
 Ruth: I think of this model as a Slinky®, a toy I played with as a child.                   
A Slinky is a coil of metal that is flexible and continuous.  If it’s held upright, you can see that it is a helix with a vertical axis.  If we think of “One in Charity” like a Slinky, then we can see that as one acts on the natural impulses that flow from having the pure love of Christ, unity increases. And as unity increases, the pure love of Christ continues to increase. 
Ultimately this love reaches perfection and becomes the kind of love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for each other and for us.  So in this model, it’s hard to say which comes first, charity or unity, because they increase together.
Dale: As we have already discussed, Christlike attributes are natural consequences of developing and possessing agape, the pure love of Christ.     
One of these Christlike attributes is unity. And as we unite with others in a community of Saints, we can achieve remarkable things.                                   
That is the hope and expectation of the “I Was a Stranger” initiative.         
However, let’s go back to the center, to charity itself. If we can have and possess that one attribute, we do not need to try to achieve each of the other attributes enumerated here separately. Rather than focus on developing the fruits of this charity, our focus could be to develop charity itself. 
Ruth: It’s pretty clear that the pure love of Christ is a prerequisite for the Lord’s work. It is in fact the foundation on which unity is built.                                       
Just think about the evening of the Last Supper. That was the same evening Jesus washed the feet of the Apostles and gave a commandment that applies to all of His disciples, even for us today. He said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
Dale: This new commandment, that they love one another as He had loved them, was critical to the future of His work. Loving one another is both a marker of true discipleship and a precursor to the unity that He required. It should not be lost on us that the absence of love one for another demonstrates to others that we have more work to do in becoming His disciples.                                                               
As we have talked about the relationship between charity and Christlike attributes, such as unity, I wonder whether the pure love of Christ itself results from something else even more foundational.                                                             
After all, Mormon indicates that all those who are true followers of Jesus Christ  will have this attribute, the pure love of Christ. The question really becomes,  “Is there a precursor or prerequisite to possessing the pure love of Christ?” 
Ruth: I think there is. It is something we learned one night when our daughter Ashley was four years old. As you remember, she had developed a highly evolved, go-to-bed avoidance behavior. She simply did not want to go to bed and miss out on any family discussion. So after we went through a usual bedtime routine, including evening prayer, we tucked her in. Soon thereafter, she would be up and want something like a glass of water. After getting her a drink, we tucked her in again, but with greater firmness. However, she got up and wanted something else. This would go on over and over. Each time she got up, we tucked her in with greater and greater firmness, thinking somehow that would help. Invariably it did not. Eventually she would fall asleep. 
Dale: One evening, after about five times of getting up, she got up yet another time and said she wanted a snack. You said, “Ashley, you’re just playing with us!” and tucked her in with some firmness. I was actually surprised when, no more than 30 seconds later, she was up again. But this time it was different. She held a paperback Book of Mormon in her hand, her lower jaw was quivering, and with some indignation she said, “But Mom, Mosiah 4:14! Where it says, ‘And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry.’” Ruth, did she get her snack? 
Ruth: Of course she did. Who can resist a child quoting scripture about parental responsibilities? 
Dale: In fact this verse, Mosiah 4:14, could be used with good effect by virtually every Primary-age child at some point. But that is really beside the point. After Ashley got her snack and went to bed, we looked at the context of this scripture that she had used so cunningly. We learned that it is not a commandment. It is actually a consequence or a fruit of something else mentioned earlier in the masterful address by King Benjamin. In Mosiah chapter 4, beginning in verse 12 we read: “And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; . . . “And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably . . . .           “And ye will [give your children snacks at bedtime, or you will] not suffer your children that they go hungry.”
 Ruth: These fruits or consequences rest on the meaning of “this.” It is certainly desirable because if we do “this,” we will “always rejoice,” “be filled with the love of God,” “always retain a remission of [our] sins,” “not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably,” and will “not suffer [our] children that they go hungry.” 
Dale: Right. We need to go to the beginning of Mosiah 4 to really understand “this.” You will recall that King Benjamin had been instructed by an angel about the coming of Jesus Christ and His Atonement. He explained to his people what their state would be without Christ’s Atonement. We read of the effect this instruction had on the people. “Behold they had fallen to the earth, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them. “And they had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . . “. . . The Spirit of the Lord came upon them, and they were filled with joy, having received a remission of their sins, and having peace of conscience, because of the exceeding faith which they had in Jesus Christ.”These people were absolutely converted. They had tasted of the fruits of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. 
Ruth: And King Benjamin had more to say. He said that if they had really experienced conversion, if they had truly understood what God had done for them, given their hopeless state without the Atonement of Christ, “I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you . . . and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come . . . . And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this . . . .”
 Dale: So we discover that “this” is to be absolutely converted to Jesus Christ,     to remember God’s greatness, to humble ourselves, to pray to God daily, and to stand steadfastly in faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement. If we do “this,” then all those fruits or consequences flow naturally.                                                     
So if we are truly converted and always remember God’s greatness, then we will always rejoice, be filled with the love of God, always retain a remission of our sins, live peaceably, and give our children snacks. 
Ruth: In many ways, it is striking that the attributes that naturally flow from agape, as described by Paul, are similar to the fruits that flow from being converted to Jesus Christ. This leads to the obvious question of how agape and conversion to Christ are related. Is it possible that charity is itself a consequence of conversion? 
Dale: I believe we have already reviewed a scripture that suggests that this is so, that conversion to Jesus Christ leads to the development of charity, the pure love of Christ. Remember that Mormon taught: “But charity is the pure love of Christ . . . . Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God.” Clearly, those who are converted to Jesus Christ and are His disciples may qualify for charity, the pure love of Christ. 
Ruth: At the center of desirable and Christlike attributes is the pure love of Christ. Conversion to Jesus Christ and His Atonement underlies our ability to develop agape, the pure love of Christ. So of all the models we have discussed, this last one, with conversion to Jesus Christ as the foundation for the pure love of Christ, is the most complete. Dale: Elder Marvin J. Ashton pretty well summed it up when he said, “Charity is, perhaps, in many ways a misunderstood word. We often equate charity with visiting the sick, taking in casseroles to those in need, or sharing our excess with those who are less fortunate. But really, true charity is much, much more. Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again.”                     
The pure love of Christ or charity is selfless and self-sacrificing, emanating from a pure heart and a good conscience. Charity is more than an act or action.     
Charity is an attitude, a state of heart and mind that accompanies one’s actions. It is to be an integral part of one’s nature. In fact, all things are to be done in charity. Charity casts out all fears, and it is a prerequisite for entering the kingdom of Heaven.
 Ruth: But conversion to Jesus Christ is the real key to developing charity.     Charity stems from true conversion to Jesus Christ and His Atonement.           
The underlying invitation that comes from all we have discussed today is the same invitation our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ have been issuing from the beginning of time—simply, “Come unto Christ.” 
Dale: We have discussed various ways one can look at three simple words,   “One in Charity.” The underlying, fundamental principle we have shared is that conversion to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement is the key to developing charity, the pure love of Christ. The development of charity then leads to the development of other Christlike attributes. 
For more than a year, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve have stressed that the way to increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement is to improve our Sabbath day observance at home and at Church. Improved Sabbath day observance is vital to increasing our own conversion. 
I promise you that as you make the Sabbath day a priority in your own life, your ability to feel agape, charity, this pure love of Christ, will increase. As you take time each week to prepare conscientiously for and worthily partake of the sacrament, you will see and feel the fruits of charity developing in yourself, in your very character and being.     
You will become more united with your husband, your children, your family—all of your loved ones, and with those you are called to serve.                                    
You will become “One in Charity.” 

Monday, September 19, 2016

"Do We Really Believe"

I was recently visiting with a friend and I found our journeys were once again so similar though our circumstances were different we were asking ourselves the same questions and searching for our answers best we knew how.

As I was driving to work this past Sunday I was listening to the Byu Channel on my radio when this devotional came on.
Needless to say it struck a deep chord with me and today as I was reading his words they again struck a deep chord with me.

I am like that Father in the New Testament story who is crying out to the Lord,
"Lord help me with my unbelief!"

I know how his words touched me and has opened my eyes to some insights that I had not considered.
It is my hope that whomever reads his inspired words will also glean some new insights:

Blake E. PetersonMay 24, 2016

Many who speak at a Brigham Young University devotional make reference to their experiences
 as students at BYU and the insights they have gained by attending devotionals.
I can’t do that because I never attended BYU.
I am a Utah State University Aggie, and my Aggie blue runs deep.
I am a big Cougar fan, but even after twenty years of holding season tickets 
for BYU basketball and football,
I still can’t bring myself to sing, “Rise and shout.”
In those same twenty years I have also attended devotionals
as a faculty member and have heard the testimonies
of many of my colleagues and felt the spirit of many students
as they have borne testimony through music.
I am particularly humbled by this opportunity to speak to you
today in a place where prophets and apostles have taught and testified.

Do We Really Believe in the Resurrection?

I am the youngest in a family of four boys, and about twenty-two years ago 
I was encouraged to apply for a faculty opening here at BYU in the Department of Mathematics. 
At the time, I was a faculty member at Oregon State University, 
and my three older brothers lived in Iowa, Washington, and California, 
while my parents lived in Logan, Utah. 
In addition to this being a great opportunity for me to come to BYU, 
it allowed me to be a little closer to my parents, 
because their health was failing.
My father did not want my decision to move to Utah to be based in any way 
on helping him and my mother. 
He was very proud of the fact that his sons were contributing to the kingdom
 outside of Utah. My wife, Shauna, and I felt that the move to BYU was the right decision, 
and we arrived here in August 1996.
Six months after our arrival in Provo, my father had surgery in Salt Lake City to repair a heart valve. 
Ten years earlier his original valve had been replaced with a pig valve, 
at which time he contracted hepatitis C. 
Because this pig valve was now failing, the doctors decided to replace it with a mechanical valve.
During the surgery the doctors realized that the hepatitis C had wreaked havoc on my father’s liver,
 which made the heart surgery very traumatic on his body. 
This was the beginning of a seventeen-day roller coaster ride.
At this time my mother’s health was not good, 
so she was only able to visit my dad about every two to three days. 
Thus the responsibility of visiting my father and communicating with the doctors fell to my wife and me.
One or the other of us would travel from Mapleton, about ten miles south of Provo, 
to the hospital in Salt Lake City every day. 
Many times my wife would visit in the afternoon,
 and I would spend the evening at the hospital, or vice versa. 
This was particularly challenging 
because we had four children ranging in age from three to nine.
I referred to this time as a roller coaster ride 
because on one day a particular doctor would be pessimistic 
and on the next day another doctor would be optimistic about the eventual outcome. 
These varied opinions and outlooks greatly affected my emotions 
as I went to visit my father.

I remember driving up State Street toward the hospital in Salt Lake City 
and feeling the dread of what I might hear from the doctors on that day 
and wondering to myself, “Am I afraid of my dad dying?” 
I also thought to myself, 
“I have a testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and of His Resurrection. 
Am I afraid of death? Do I really believe I will see my father again?”
It is this question of “Do we really believe?” 
that will be the focus of my comments today. 
As I pose this question, I do not do so to introduce doubt, 
because when I was going through these trials associated with my father’s time in the hospital, 
I never really doubted my testimony. 
Instead I wondered why I was feeling this wide swing of emotions
when I knew I did have a testimony  that the Atonement of Jesus Christ 
would allow me to see my father again.

Moroni 7:41 says:

And what is it that ye shall hope for? 
Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ 
and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, 
and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.

I believed this scripture, but this was the first time I had had to directly apply it in my life. 
We don’t truly gain a testimony of many principles of the gospel 
until we exercise faith and apply those principles in our lives. 
I already had a testimony of the blessings of paying tithing, 
a testimony that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus Christ, 
and a testimony of God’s presence in the temple 
because I had had many opportunities to test these principles 
and had had confirming experiences about them. 
Facing the death of my father, 
however, was my first opportunity to test my faith 
and understanding of the Resurrection.
On what gospel principles is your testimony based, 
and are there principles or doctrines about which you ask,
 “Do I really believe?”

As I faced this trial, I recalled something that my father had told me many times growing up:
 “Hold fast to the things you know are true, 
and the answers to the rest will come to you in time.”
When my father was a young man, he struggled to understand
 why worthy black male members of the Church could not hold the priesthood.
 He went to his bishop with this question and was given these words of advice:
 “Hold fast to the things you know are true, 
and the answers to the rest will come to you in time.” 
He heeded this counsel and often shared it with my brothers and me. 
For our family, June 8, 1978, 
was a day of celebration and a confirmation for my father that
 “the answers to the rest will come to you in time.”

Interestingly, I have heard this same idea shared many times in recent general conference talks. 
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled us in April 2013 to 
“hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes”
 (“Lord, I Believe,” Ensign,May 2013).

Later that same year, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf admonished,
 “First doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith”
 (“Come, Join with Us,” Ensign,November 2013; see F. F. Bosworth, Christ the Healer
[Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen Books, 2008], 23).

During a talk in October 2014, Elder Neil L. Andersen said, 
“We do not discard something we know to be true 
because of something we do not yet understand”
 (“Joseph Smith,” Ensign, November 2014).

And, similarly, Elder Kevin W. Pearson taught us in April 2015 that 
“when adversity comes, don’t let something you don’t fully understand unravel everything you do know. 
Be patient, cling to truth; understanding will come”
(“Stay by the Tree,” Ensign,May 2015).

When I was on this trying journey of driving to the hospital each day and was facing the fact 
that my father might not recover, I held fast to the testimony I did have of various gospel principles, 
and I knew that someday I would better understand the Resurrection. 
One thing that I have since come to realize is that the main contributing factor to the swing in my emotions
at this time was the fear of the temporary loss of association with my father.

One of the main things we enjoy about our families is spending time with them. 
My father never missed attending a game in which I participated as a young man. 
Whether it was church basketball or high school football or basketball, he never missed a game. 
We also attended many Utah State University basketball games together and even had a chance to attend a Jazz basketball game in the month before his surgery. 
I believe that one cause of my fears as I drove to the hospital was not a doubt of my testimony
but the sadness I would feel in not being able to spend time with him.

After seventeen days in the hospital, my father passed away, 
and I was forced to consider the question 
“Do I really believe in the Resurrection and Atonement?” 
The fact that I never really doubted my testimony during this trying time
 is consistent with my patriarchal blessing, 
which states that I have been blessed with the gift of faith—the gift of a believing heart. 
This believing heart came, in part, from my mother. 
At her funeral, my older brother, Mark, quoted Alma 56:48: 
“We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” 
All three of my brothers and I knew that there was no doubt in our mother’s testimony, 
and we are all the beneficiaries of her gift of faith.

Do We Really Believe That People Can Change?

Since all of us will be challenged at one time or another about what we really believe, 
I will now examine a few other places in our lives and in our testimonies in which the question 
“Do we really believe?” may arise.

My wife, Shauna, has listened to the radio talk show host Dr. Laura for many years. 
Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a marriage and family therapist who fields phone calls 
to help people deal with problems in their relationships. 
Perhaps some of you have listened to her show or maybe your parents have 
or maybe some of you have called her for advice with regard to someone you are dating right now.
 I have listened to this show many times while driving long distances with my wife, 
but because Dr. Laura is so confrontational with the people who call in, 
it makes me uncomfortable. 
This discomfort is a good thing for me, 
however, because it helps me stay awake while driving long distances.

One of the common types of phone calls Dr. Laura receives
 is a husband or wife calling in to describe a behavior or a problem
 regarding his or her spouse that the caller would like to change or fix.
 Dr. Laura often asks if the caller knew that the spouse had the ­problem while they were dating, 
and the answer is usually yes. 
Dr. Laura then says that she can’t help because the person knew about the spouse’s flaw 
before they got ­married, and now the caller has to deal with it. 
Although not necessarily intentional, 
I believe one underlying message of her counsel in these types of situations is that people can’t change.
I have always been bothered by this message 
that people can’t change because it seems so inconsistent with my understanding of the Atonement.

Do we really believe that people can change? 
I believe they can. Intellectually I have known this for years, 
but I didn’t gain a strong testimony of the principle until I served as a bishop. 
In this ecclesiastical role I had the opportunity to counsel with a man 
who was struggling with pornography and had been for many years. 
I also counseled with his wife about the emotions she was experiencing at this challenging time. 
Because he had hidden his addiction from her for so long, 
she didn’t know if he could ever overcome this struggle. 
She didn’t know if she could ever trust him again.
As we visited one evening, the following thought came clearly to my mind:
 “If you truly believe in the Atonement of Jesus Christ, 
you have to believe that people can change. 
If you don’t believe a person can change, 
then you don’t believe in the Atonement.” 
In that moment I was taught by the Holy Ghost for the benefit of this sister. 
Simultaneously, my testimony of the Atonement’s power to change people also increased.

Do We Really Believe in the Words of the Prophets?

Let us consider another example. 
In my current study of the Book of Mormon, 
I have been reading the student manual for Book of Mormon institute classes. 
For 1 Nephi 10 and 11 the manual poses the question 
“What principles for receiving revelation can you identify from Nephi’s experience?”
 (Book of Mormon Student Manual: Religion 121–122 
[Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2009], 25). 

With this question in mind, 
I gained some new insights as I read 1 Nephi 11:1–5, 
which states:
For it came to pass after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, 
and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, 
as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord,
 yea, into an exceedingly high mountain, 
which I never had before seen, and upon which I never had before set my foot.
And the Spirit said unto me: Behold, what desirest thou?
And I said: I desire to behold the things which my father saw.
And the Spirit said unto me: 
Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?
And I said: 
Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.

There were two phrases in these verses that really jumped out at me:
 “believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me” in verse 1 
and “thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father” in verse 5.
Put simply, the first phrase indicates that Nephi believed that if he asked, God would answer. Maybe this seems obvious to many of you, but it jumped out at me in my recent reading because I am not sure I always believe God will answer when I pray. Rather, I believe He will answer, but I am not sure I am going to understand or recognize that answer.

I also find it significant that Nephi said he believed all the words of his father, 
because his father was also a prophet. 
Nephi’s general mind-set was that he believed in the words of the prophet, 
but he wanted to understand those words better. 
To do this, he knew that he could ask God because he believed God would answer his inquiry.

In a world in which the beliefs of those in “the great and spacious building” 
(1 Nephi 11:36) 
get further and further away from the doctrines of the Church,
 it becomes more and more common for the words of the prophet 
to be at odds with the beliefs of the world. 
How do we respond when those conflicts exist? 
Do we believe, as Nephi did, in all of the words of the prophet and turn to God in prayer, 
believing that He will answer our honest inquiries, 
or do we doubt and turn to our peers or the Internet
 for reinforcement of the messages of the great and spacious building?

Do We Really Believe God Will Answer Our Prayers?

It is interesting to contrast Nephi with his brothers Laman and Lemuel 
on this same ­matter of understanding their father’s dream. 
In 1 Nephi 15, Nephi returned to his father’s tent after having been taught by an angel and by the Spirit. 
He found Laman and Lemuel arguing about the meaning of Lehi’s dream.
 It is at this point that we have the following interchange, starting in verse 8:

And I said unto them: Have ye inquired of the Lord?
And they said unto me: 
We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.
 [1 Nephi 15:8–9]

Notice the contrast in attitude between Nephi and his brothers. 
Nephi believed that God would teach him about Lehi’s dream 
while Laman and Lemuel said that the Lord wouldn’t answer their prayers. 
Continuing on in verse 11, Nephi counseled:

Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—
If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, 
believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments,
 surely these things shall be made known unto you.

Nephi reminded his brothers that if they believed 
they would receive an answer and 
“surely these things shall be made known unto [them].”

We see similar contrasting attitudes between Nephi and his brothers 
when they returned to Jerusalem to seek the plates of brass. 
In 1 Nephi 3:31 we see that Laman and Lemuel didn’t believe 
that they could get the plates when they said, 
“[Laban] can slay fifty; then why not us?”
Nephi showed his believing heart in 1 Nephi 4:1 
when he said that God “is mightier than all the earth,
 then why not mightier than Laban and his fifty?”

When we pray, do we really believe that we will receive an answer? 
When we are prompted to do challenging things, 
do we really believe that we can overcome obstacles to do so?

I know that I need to be more believing in these situations. 
What is your belief when you pray? 
Do you believe that God will answer your prayers and that you will understand those answers?

Does Our Behavior Testify What We Really Believe?

Another way to look at the question “Do we really believe?” 
is to ask ourselves, 
“Can the people with whom I interact see what I believe by the way I act?”

When I was young, my family was very active in the Church, 
but my parents struggled to hold family home evening or family scripture study. 
We did have the occasional family prayer, but it was not a regular habit. 
And yet my brothers and I have all served missions, have all been faithful in our testimonies, 
and have all served faithfully in various callings throughout our lives.

I have often wondered how my parents nurtured their sons’ testimonies when they didn’t do the basics 
of family prayer, family scripture study, or family home evening. 
I know we have been counseled by the prophets to do these things, 
and I believe they have had a positive influence on my children 
as Shauna and I have tried to do them in our home. 
This is why I was puzzled at my parents’
 success when they didn’t do these basics. 

I have come to realize that my parents taught us the gospel by the way they lived.
Although my mother’s health limited the callings she held, 
she never let her health struggles get in the way of my father’s service. 
When I was a teenager my father was the bishop of our ward, 
but my mother was only able to attend church once or twice a month. 
Regardless of how she felt, she always supported my dad in his time-consuming callings, 
from Scoutmaster to bishop to stake president. 
There was never any doubt of what she believed.

Some examples of my father teaching me what he believed were seen in his day-to-day actions. 
First, as a home teacher of an older sister in the ward, 
he spent many evenings working at her home breaking up concrete and laying forms so that 
she could have a new driveway. 
Second, as an Explorer Scout advisor, 
he organized the selling of eggs, lightbulbs, and candy to raise money 
to take the Explorers to Southern California. 
Third, as a deacons quorum advisor, 
he got up early every Sunday morning for a few years to help
 one of his deacons deliver newspapers 
so that this young man could make it to priesthood meeting on time.

One final example of how we saw my father’s beliefs through his actions comes from my niece 
Amberly and her husband, Jason. 
When they were dating they went to visit my father in the month before his surgery. 
Since Amberly was attending Ricks College—now BYU–Idaho—in Rexburg, 
she would often go to Logan on the weekends to visit her grandparents, 
and she had seen my father’s health deteriorate. 
On this particular visit she had brought Jason, who was then her boyfriend. 
Being the boyfriend, Jason slept on the couch, and there he witnessed my father restlessly wandering 
about the house all night trying to find a comfortable chair in which he could sleep.

This restless night preceded a Sunday morning when my father was scheduled to teach 
a Gospel Doctrine class in his ward. 
As Amberly and Jason watched my father walk across the church parking lot, 
they wondered if he would make it because each step required great effort and concentration.
 Here is the rest of the story in Amberly’s own words:

When it came time for his Gospel Doctrine ­lesson, he taught Alma 5. 
I knew he was dying. He had been dying for several years, 
and as I sat listening to one of my favorite people in the world talk 
about being prepared to meet God, 
I was overwhelmed by the Spirit and my love for my grandpa. 
Personal preparation is a lifelong effort, 
and my grandpa was a living example of that preparation.
He ended his powerful lesson by saying, 
“I hope that when I leave this life and see God, 
I can say, as the Apostle Paul did: ‘
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’” 
[2 Timothy 4:7]
I knew what a fight he had made just to get into the building. 
And then he stood for fifty minutes to teach the lesson. 
He had fought a good fight, finished his course, 
and kept the faith that very day. 
My perspective on preparation and enduring to the end 
was forever changed by the faithful example of my grandpa that day.

On that day, my niece and her boyfriend saw the strength of my father’s testimony 
and saw what he believed through the faithful way in which he magnified his calling.

I am currently serving in the bishopric of a young single adult ward in south Provo. 
A few weeks ago in elders quorum we were discussing Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson’s
 recent general conference talk titled
 “Do I Believe?”
 (Ensign, May 2016). 
A member of the quorum made the following observation: 
“If your words don’t match your actions, then you don’t really believe.”

Are your words consistent with your actions? 
Does your behavior testify what you really believe? 
Do your actions testify to your children what you believe, 
just as my parents’ actions testified to me?

“Help Thou Mine Unbelief”

In the April 2013 general conference 
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught us about a father who went to the Savior pleading for help with his son
 (see “Lord, I Believe,” Ensign, May 2013).
 The father described a son who was possessed of “a dumb spirit” 
(Mark 9:17)
 and who was continually doing harm to himself. 
The family was at the end of their rope. 
To the father’s pleading the Savior responded:
If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, 
and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 

[Mark 9:23–24]
The significance of this story for me is in the way the father responded to his unbelief. 
He had a belief in some teachings of the Savior and was seeking help with his unbelief. 
The father was likely asking himself if he really believed his son could be healed,
 but rather than turning away from the gospel, he pled for help with his unbelief.

All of us here have a belief in some principle of the gospel 
or have had a spiritual experience at some point upon which our testimony rests. 
Do we respond as this father did by seeking help with our unbelief, 
or do we “discard something we know to be true because of something we do not yet understand” (Andersen, “Joseph Smith”)?

So how should we respond when ­trials, doubts, or questions arise? 
Because they certainly will. 
How do we respond when we are faced with questions such as 
Do I really believe in the Resurrection? 
or Do I really believe that people can change? 
or Do I really believe that God will answer my prayers? 
Where do we turn for answers to questions like these?
 Do we follow the example of this father from the New Testament story that Elder Holland shared 
by remembering what we do believe and turning to the Savior to seek help with our unbelief, 
or do we forget what we believe and turn to 
Facebook or other social media for answers to resolve our unbelief?

Laman and Lemuel took the Facebook approach 
because they didn’t believe God would answer their prayers, 
and they murmured when understanding didn’t come. 
Nephi turned to God, believing he would receive an answer, 
and understanding came.

I conclude where I started
 by sharing an experience that happened to me several weeks after my father passed away. 
Sitting in an elders quorum class, 
I was asked to read Doctrine and Covenants 138:28–30,
which states:

And I wondered at the words of Peter—
wherein he said that the Son of God preached unto the spirits in prison, 
who sometime were disobedient, 
when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah—
and how it was possible for him to preach to those spirits 
and perform the necessary labor among them in so short a time.
And as I wondered, my eyes were opened,
 and my understanding quickened, 
and I perceived that the Lord went not in person among the wicked 
and the disobedient who had rejected the truth, to teach them;
But behold, from among the righteous, 
he organized his forces and appointed messengers, 
clothed with power and authority,
 and commissioned them to go forth 
and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, 
even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead.

As I read these verses in that elders quorum lesson, 
the Spirit powerfully testified to me that my father was one of those missionaries 
sharing the gospel in the spirit world.
 Do I really believe in the Resurrection and that I will see my father again?
I followed my father’s counsel 
and held on to what I believed,
 and the answer did come.
When you are faced with the question of whether you really believe some principle of the gospel, 
I encourage you to hold fast to the things that you know are true 
because the answers to the rest will come to you in time. 
While you are waiting for your answers to come, 
live the gospel in a way that allows those around you to know what you really believe. 
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Blake E. Peterson was chair of the BYU Department of Mathematics Education when this devotional address was given on 24 May 2016.
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