Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacrament Talk: Freedom to Choose

Alright, so here is the talk I talked so much about yesterday. To make it a bit more appealing to the eye, I've added pictures from our (snow) day here in Wisconsin. Besides, those smiling children are an essential part of my Great Plan of Happiness.

It is nice to gather together again after conference weekend. What a wonderful weekend General Conference is. I have long felt recharged after hearing the words of God’s prophet and apostles. As a child I remember some speakers having a greater influence on me than others. One such speaker was Elder Neal A. Maxwell. He joined the quorum of the 12 Apostles the year before I was born, and he passed away ten years ago this summer. I remember telling my mom once, that he often gave the most clear speeches. She was astounded, she told me she had a hard time understanding him. I wonder, how then, as young as I was, was it possible for his talks to always make sense to me.

Now, as an adult, I recognize that I may not have always understood his message, but I understood the spirit with which he spoke. He was one who boldly declared doctrine. So I found great comfort in his words while I prepared my talk. The topic I am assigned to speak on is “Freedom to Choose.” I found myself struggling to know how I should study this doctrine. Then I came across Elder Maxwell’s words, he said “though the grandness of this doctrine (the freedom to choose) is beyond our comprehension, it is not beyond our attention and exploration.” Suddenly I felt justified in my struggle, if even an apostle of the Lord could not comprehend the greatness of the freedom to choose, then surely I will not be expected to.

So I ask for your patience while I give this talk today. I pray that the spirit will not only guide my mind and my words, but also your hearts. That each of you will feel of God’s glorious love and be compelled to act as a result of what is said today. I will borrow heavily from an address Elder Maxwell gave to an audience in BYU, Provo, just four months before his mortal death.

To begin to understand the doctrine of freedom, we must look at the Plan of Salvation, or the Plan of Happiness. We must understand that we existed as spirits before we came to this Earth. From the very beginning, God gave us freedom to choose. Before He even gave us our bodies, He gave us, His Spirit children, the freedom to choose. This freedom is a gift, a most sacred gift. One we each used before we were even born.

Satan’s goal is steal our freedom from us. He wants us to be miserable like him. Freedom is directly connected to joy. If Satan can take away our freedom, he will take away our happiness.

God’s plan is one of happiness. In the Heaven’s, before God put man on the Earth, God’s spirit children, everyone on the Earth today and all who have or will live on this Earth, counseled together to learn of this Great Plan of Happiness. We do not remember what happened in this counsel, but the Book of Revelation, found in the Holy Bible, and the book of Moses, found in the Pearl of Great Price, teach us a few key doctrines of this counsel.

The apostle John wrote, in the book of revelations chapter 12 that:
There was a war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the
dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any
more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil,
and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his
angels were cast out with him.

Moses gives a similar account, but he speaks using the voice of the Lord. Moses 4:3 reads: Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith also received revelation regarding this counsel in heaven. God told him, “the devil . . . rebelled against me . . . ; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency” (D&C 29:36; emphasis added). So, the devil’s angels that John speaks of in the book of revelation, was one third of God’s spirit children.

Though these verses are short, there is much to be learned from them. We know that Satan used his agency when he rebelled against God. As a result of this rebellion we were all required to use our agency, our freedom of choice. We could choose to accept Satan’s plan, one that would force us all to return to God without any growth, without making any of our own choices; or we could accept God’s plan of Happiness, a plan that gave us an opportunity to come to this Earth and prove ourselves worthy of God’s presence -- to gain knowledge and experiences that would help us come closer to God. We also learn that a third part of God’s spirit children were cast down with Satan because of their agency. Elder Maxwell teaches us that one-third deliberately chose not to have a mortal experience. They chose to stop making their own choices. That was Satan’s plan, he wanted to take away our agency. When the third hosts of heaven choose to follow Satan, they surrendered their freedom to choose. We are all given choices, but the consequences of those choices are already attached. Often, we even know what the consequences might be. We foolishly think we will be powerful enough to avoid them.

Elder Maxwell also teaches us that “Satan clearly chose to be angry when he was rejected, he chose to lead others astray, and he chose misery, not joy. His followers in turn chose to rebel, chose to respond to his false allures, and turned their ... backs on (this mortal life).”

Sometimes our feelings come to us without much of our control. When we suffer loss, heartache inevitably follows. But Elder Maxwell tells us that Satan chose to be angry. My mother refers to anger as a deadly poison. She reminds me that it gives others power over me. How profound. When Satan choose anger, God our Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, used their power to cast Satan and his angels down. We must not chose anger.

During that council in heaven we chose God’s plan of happiness. We chose to keep our freedom. We chose to come to this Earth and experience mortality. While here we must continue to make wise choices. Each of us has been given the guiding light of Christ. Those of us who have made the sacred covenants of baptism and confirmation have also been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The light of Christ and the Gift of the Holy Ghost are our tools in fighting Satan.

Likewise, prayer is another tool we use to fight Satan. We can ask God to help us withstand Satan’s temptations. God has told us we will not be tempted above that which we can handle. I know there are times when that promise doesn’t feel real. We may experience pains and trials so large that we do not know how we will bear them.

This is where the role of our Savior Jesus Christ comes to play. This week we will all be preparing for Easter Sunday. I hope we each take time out of our busy days to contemplate the example Christ is for us. During that counsel in Heaven Christ stepped forward and said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.”

Elder Maxwell said, “Jesus chose to let His will be “swallowed up in the will of the Father” (Mosiah 15:7). It was a deliberate choice—”

Christ chose to suffer all our pains and afflictions. He chose to follow God’s will instead of His own. The result of those choices is glorious. Because of Christ’s willingness to do as God wanted, we are all able to return to live with God again. Returning to God is a key aspect of the Great Plan of Happiness. God wants us to live with Him again. But He will not force us to do so.

Alma 29:4 teaches us that God grants us our degree of glory, or condemnation, based on our desires and our wills. This is another aspect of freedom to choose. Elder Maxwell said, “I’m not sure we grasp how the final judgment will reflect our choices! But my desires and choices really will be honored!”

President J. Reuben Clark, Jr.said:” I believe that in his justice and mercy [God] will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.

I know the last time I was assinged to speak, I spoke on Hope. I shared a story of one man’s vision of Judgement Day. He envisioned Christ weaping and begging each of us to accept His mercy, that we might find joy with God in His kingdom. While studying for this talk I found scriptural proof of this. In Jacob chapter 5, verse 47 the master of the vineyard, a metaphor for Christ, asks “What could I have done more?” Christ wants to save us all. He wants to help each and everyone of God’s children return to God. But it is our choice. Our desires determine our destiny.

But we are given the freedom to choose. It is our choice, whether or not we will take advantage of Christ’s suffering. Christ cannot take away our pains and our sufferings. He can make them light. We can yoke ourselves with Him and He will help us make it back to our Father in Heaven.

Last month as the youth studied the atonement of Jesus Christ it was brought to my attention that we needed to help our youth understand what a yoke is. Picture an old pioneer cart or an old piece of farm equipment. Something from the 1800s, long before automobiles. Oxen, or big strong male cows, were used to pull these carts. Though one cow may be strong enough to pull a plow and a single farmer, it took more than one cow to pull a covered wagon filled with an entire family’s belongings and often several family members. For this kind of pulling two or more oxen were required. To keep the cows together a yoke was placed around each of their necks. Yoked together the two cows could easily pull the load. They would walk in synch with one another to help keep the cart continually moving forward. Toward their final destination. If one ox became tired or ill and stopped moving, it became almost impossible for the other ox to pull the cart, and his immobile friend, alone.

Christ can not drag us across the finish line alone. Nor can we try and make it there without his help. We must choose Him. We will all make mistakes, He knows that. He will accept us after each and every mistake we make. We are God’s children, He will love us no matter how many times we fail. But we must continue to choose them.

The freedom to choose was one the first gifts God ever gave us. He will not take it away from us. I promise that each of us is strong enough to turn to Christ and yoke ourselves to Him. I know …  

You can pray to know for yourself if this Great Plan of Happiness is real. ...

** The ellipses signal where I added my on the spot testimony.


Charles and Carolyn said...

Loved catching up on your blog. It is always fun to read. I also love your pictures. You take really good pictures of your adorable kids.

Anonymous said...

Loved your talk, Sis. Thanks for sharing, and the pictures added so much to it! Love the Plan of Happiness!

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