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Category Archives: Year In Review

Walking Different Paths

I’ve recently had multiple conversations with friends and family members who have left the church or have had a spouse, children, sibling or close friend do so. I listened carefully to their experiences and wrote/delivered this talk in a Lehi ward on July 8, 2018.

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Today I’d like to talk about making and keeping covenants, which must be important, as we hear about it nearly every week at church. A covenant is a type of contract with God, in which he promises to bless us as we keep his commandments.

One of the central themes of the Book of Mormon is the Lord’s covenant relationship with his people. As Father Lehi said in 2 Nephi 1:20, “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.”

What does that mean exactly to be cut off from his presence? Does it mean that we lose the influence of the Holy Ghost? Are we cut off from returning to live with him someday?

Lehi’s dream describes people in various situations — some pressed forward while holding to the rod of iron; some wandered in strange paths, blinded by the mists of darkness, while others were enticed by the great and spacious building.

Today, I’d like to talk about those who have made covenants but then have chosen to walk a different path. We sometimes call them less active members, inactive members, ex-Mormons or former members. In years past, the term “apostate” was often used to describe someone who grew up as a member but has left and is hostile towards the church. Apostate is a pretty negative word — so maybe we should call them “friends who have chosen to walk a different path.”

My great, great grandfather Charles Lambert had an interesting experience with an “apostate” in his Salt Lake City ward. Charles was a stone mason who joined the church in England, emigrated to America and worked on both the Nauvoo and Salt Lake Temples. Later in life he developed arthritis that aggravated a dislocated shoulder, making it impossible for him to raise his arm above his head.

Charles became concerned about a church member named Gallup who was defaming the prophet Joseph Smith years after Joseph’s death. The man was brought before a priesthood council to answer for his apostasy and claimed the Joseph Smith was a drunk and an adulterer and was now in hell.

Charles Lambert, seated on the opposite side of the room, sprang to his feet, leapt over benches and rushed towards him crying out “I will send YOU to hell.” He raised his right arm (which he had not been able to use for months) and was about to strike the man before being restrained. His wife Mary Alice wept with joy when her husband returned home, swinging his arm, now free from pain, above his head.

Now I appreciate my ancestor’s zeal and passion in defending the honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith, but I also think we ought to be very careful how we interact with those who view the church negatively. Instead of antagonizing them, we ought to seek for understanding and peace. So how do we maintain positive relationships with our friends and family who have left the church?

First, let’s not minimize their decision. In my experience, most people who have left the church have only done so after MUCH consideration and deliberation. It is an agonizing and scary experience for many as they make this life-changing decision. Some leave suddenly, but most leave after years of doubt and struggle, and they do so knowing that culturally, they might be shunned or treated as outsiders or as “projects.” While some active members think that leaving the church is an act of weakness or cowardice, it is very scary, difficult decision, a step into the unknown which is not taken lightly by most.

Why do people leave the church? We active members wonder how someone could possibly know the truth and then leave it behind. We try to search for answers because it hurts when someone leaves the family of saints — it’s like a betrayal. I’m sure all of us in this room have experienced this. We want desperately to understand how they could reject not only the teachings of their childhood, but also their family heritage and a big part of their personal identity.

We often inappropriately oversimplify people’s motives:

“Oh, she was offended by something her bishop said. He wasn’t reading and praying daily so he lost his testimony. That family started reading some negative material on the internet and it created doubt. She wanted to drink coffee, alcohol and smoke pot, so she left the church. He wanted to look at pornography without feeling guilty all the time. They’re lazy and got tired of all the things the church asks us to do, so they stopped coming.”

In my discussions with friends who have left, I have determined that the main reasons people leave include three main categories: doubt, discouragement and deception.

Doubt

Some people feel they haven’t experienced strong spiritual manifestations or answers to prayers. Some are troubled the church’s truth claims regarding the origins of the Book of Mormon, our practice of plural marriage in the second half of the 19th century, our institutionalized racism prior to 1978, the roles of women in leadership, the authoritarian and hierarchical nature of the church, emotionally charged LGBT issues and so forth.

For some people, these issues just create too much cognitive dissonance, especially because people are imperfect and history is messy. Faith is difficult. Believing in something without hard evidence, especially in today’s world, feels like folly. We are afraid we’re going to be deceived.

My friends, over the years, I have read so much about the church — so many things that have strengthened my faith, while other things have shaken me to my core. There are things I just DON’T understand. I have learned that it requires patience and humility to recognize that we don’t have all the answers and that’s okay.

I’m not willing to give up all the good things I get from living the gospel of Jesus Christ because don’t have all the answers or because our leaders are flawed and imperfect. Faith and doubt not only CAN co-exist, they must co-exist. Without doubt, we’d have a perfect knowledge and would no longer need faith. Doubt is not something to be ashamed of; but we also mustn’t allow it to overcome our faith.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland taught: “Hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes. You have more faith than you think you do.”

Discouragement

Some people say to themselves, “I just can’t live up to the ideals of the gospel of Jesus Christ and all that it requires. Maybe I’ll just stop trying. I just can’t do three hours of church on Sunday, along with canning assignments, food storage, family history, scouting advancement, young women personal progress, pack meeting, baptisms for the dead, making casseroles for the family with a new baby, visiting the sick and elderly, writing to the missionaries, doing ministering visits, and attending all the administrative meetings.”

The list goes on and on and it can get overwhelming. Since we so often we fall short of the gospel ideal, we may be tempted to give up. However, once we stop seeing the gospel as an ever-growing “To Do” list and view it instead as a roadmap to becoming more like our Heavenly Father, we can reduce these feelings of discouragement. We can reject the idea of “checking boxes” in order to achieve perfection and replace it with a sincere desire to improve our relationship with the divine.

Deception

The adversary is cunning and clever. He often makes things that are good appear evil and things that are evil appear good. The things of the world are very enticing. A few weeks ago our minivan broke down on the way home from a vacation in California, which required us stay overnight in Las Vegas. I decided to go down to the Strip late at night and check out the hotels. I rode on the rollercoaster at New York, New York and checked out the Bellagio fountains. There’s so much glitz in that city, it’s astonishing. All the pleasures of the flesh are advertised unabashedly, and you feel like you’re missing out if you

don’t partake. (I think that the great and spacious building in Lehi’s dream probably looks a lot like the MGM Grand.)

Not seeing clearly see through Satan’s deceptions is a stumbling block for many. Lately, he’s done a particularly good job at making good look evil and evil look good. For example, the church’s long-held support for traditional families and opposition to same-gender marriage is viewed by many as intolerant and hateful toward gays. The November 2015 handbook policy update regarding baptism for children of same-gender couples was seen by many as exclusionary and punitive, especially towards innocent children, when in fact church leaders said it was intended to avoid creating conflict about the church within the homes between same-gender parents and their children.

The church’s stance on the differing roles of men and women is seen by many as sexist and old fashioned. The ordain woman movement, previously led by Kate Kelly, sought to fundamentally change the order and structure of the Church by demanding that women be given the priesthood. Again, church leaders were criticized for not bending to the pressure and maintaining that men and women have unique talents and gifts that are generally associated with their gender.

These are but two examples of the how easy it is to fall into this trap of calling good evil and evil good. No one wants to be seen as intolerant. No one wants to be called a bigot. And yet that’s exactly what the world tries to do when church leaders set and articulate clear standards that reject the notion that “anything goes.”

I know a wonderful couple that have seven children, and over the years, one by one, most have left the church. Naturally, the parents are distraught by these choices and they are constantly asking themselves, what did we do wrong? Could we have kept them in the church if we’d been more consistent with having family night or had prepared better lessons filled with the spirit. They wonder what they could have done differently and they beat themselves up.

In an effort to comfort their parents, the kids in this family each wrote and presented to their parents a statement of their beliefs and an affirmation of the many values their parents had instilled in them. Did this couple fail as parents? Absolutely not! Their children still live many of the values they were taught, and while they no longer do so in an orthodox way, they are still very good people who love, serve and bless those around them.

It’s important to remember that people have their agency and MUST be allowed to exercise it. We teach our children and other family members correct principles and let them govern themselves. And that means that they will sometimes make choices that we wish they didn’t make.

Brothers and sisters, let’s not over simplify their decision to leave or judge them for making what we consider to be incorrect choices. Let’s choose not to be critical of them, but instead give them the benefit of the doubt and not make assumptions about their motives or fret about their worthiness. In short, let’s just love them. If they’re willing to talk about their decision, let’s encourage them to do so without fear that they will plant seeds of doubt in us that could eventually lead to our own disaffection. Let’s be confident in our own choice to stay within the church, but accept their decision to go another way. Nagging them or guilting them will most likely have the opposite effect. If our goal is to encourage them to come back, we should let the light of the gospel shine by living it. But we should also be humble enough to recognize that there are many paths that can lead to peace and happiness. And while ultimately we believe ours is the path to exaltation through the saving ordinances of the gospel, we DO NOT have a monopoly on truth, peace, happiness or even access to the atonement. I have met many wonderful Christians whose devotion to the Savior Jesus Christ is powerful, admirable and worthy of emulation. I have also met many non-Christians who are wonderful people to live the values I am striving to live.

Now, what do we do if our friends or family members are hostile to us for our belief in the gospel and our participation in the church? What if when they’re around us, they continually criticize church leaders, point out flaws in our history, or ridicule our culture, practices and policies. Well, we follow Christ’s example and we turn the other cheek. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves, but I don’t think many minds are changed through a heated argument or exchange, either in person, or more often these days, online. I suggest we respectfully ask them not to try to tear down our faith. Tell them that you will not constantly question their decision to leave and that you expect them to respect your beliefs and not criticize your decision to stay. Open dialogue is crucial.

In a recent TED Talk Dylan Marron said: “Sometimes the most subversive thing you can do with the people you disagree with is to speak with them and not simply at them. Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs; it just means that I’m acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently from me.”

My favorite of the Savior’s parables is the prodigal son. It gives us some great insights into how we should treat those who stray. The father in the parable didn’t want his son to leave, but he allowed him to exercise his agency and even gave him his inheritance early knowing full well that he would waste it and use it sinful activities. But he loved his son and never gave up on him. When the younger son returned, his father welcomed him with open arms. He put a robe on his back, a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet and killed the fatted calf for a feast.

The older brother, who had always been loyal to his father, was jealous. He didn’t rejoice in his brother’s homecoming — he wanted him to fail. He took great pleasure at seeing his brother in destitute circumstances with a kind of “I told you so” attitude.

We can learn from this example. We should welcome our brothers and sisters who stray back to the fold with open arms. But even if they don’t ever come back, we need to show them love and desire their success. Wanting them to fail so we can validate our decision to stay in the church is natural, but it’s extremely short-sighted and un-Christlike. We should desire their happiness and peace, no matter what path they choose. And we should tell them this. I don’t believe it’s healthy for people to constantly give off the vibe that we’re disappointed in them or sad about their choices. Yes, we can be concerned. It’s only natural. But constantly fretting about someone’s eternal salvation may very well drive a wedge between us.

May we be like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who never stopped loving his wayward son. Our Heavenly Father never stops loving those who stray, so why should we? Let’s find common ground. Let’s disagree amicably. Let’s choose kindness over judgement. As Mother Theresa says, if you judge someone, you won’t have time to love them. Let’s stop wringing our hands over how things will work out in the eternities. We don’t know how everything will play out, but I’m quite confident that a loving father will do all he can to exalt his children.

In conclusion, let me share some words from President Russel M. Nelson’s first talk to the church as its president on January 16, 2018.

“Now, to each member of the Church I say, keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him and then keeping those covenants will open the door to every spiritual blessing and privilege available to men, women, and children everywhere.”

“If you have stepped off the path, may I invite you with all the hope in my heart to please come back. Whatever your concerns, whatever your challenges, there is a place for you in this, the Lord’s Church. You and generations yet unborn will be blessed by your actions now to return to the covenant path. Our Father in Heaven cherishes His children, and He wants each of us to return home to Him. This is a grand goal of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—to help each of us to come back home.”

May we choose the covenant path ourselves but never stop loving those who do not. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2018 in Year In Review

 

Uprooting Racism

I gave a sacrament meeting talk today in a neighboring ward about how God can give us the gift of faith as we accept continuing revelation that sometimes corrects previously incorrect ideas. I used the painful example of institutional racism within my church and the subsequent process of rooting it out as Latter-day Saints (Mormons) seek to follow Christ’s teachings about loving others.

In a recent general conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said:

“We should not be surprised to know that those individuals called to do the Lord’s work are not humanly perfect. Stories in the scriptures detail incidents about men and women who were called of God to accomplish a great work–good sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father called to serve in their assignments in the Church, striving to do their best, but none of them yet perfect. The same is true of us today. Given the reality of our human weaknesses and shortcomings, how do we move forward in supporting and sustaining each other? It begins with faith–real, sincere faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in the Savior is the first principle of the doctrine and gospel of Christ.”

Faith is a precious gift bestowed on those who earnestly strive to receive it. That faith helps us accept and follow the revelations we receive, which are provided by a perfect God through imperfect people. In our most recent general conference, President Russell M. Nelson was sustained as the president of the church and announced a number of changes to some of the programs and structures of the church. Of course, I speak of the changes to home and visiting teaching to “ministering” and the combining of the Melchizedek priesthood quorums. Most members were excited about the changes as they allow us to minister to our brothers and sisters in a more customizable, flexible way. Combining the priesthood quorums will help break down the walls between older and younger men, helping us become more unified in our efforts. I believe we all felt that the Lord is behind these changes. Does this mean that the former programs of home teaching and visiting teaching were wrong? No, but it’s time to take the training wheels off; it’s time we take our gospel participation to the next level.

While these changes were indeed significant, as I think back through my lifetime, the biggest change that has come by revelation was the ending of the priesthood restriction for black members of the church in June 1978. The 40th anniversary of that historic revelation is coming up so I’d like to share some thoughts on this important topic.

This week the senior leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) met with and issued a joint statement with the LDS First Presidency. This is highly significant since the NAACP organized rallies in downtown Salt Lake in the 1960s protesting the church’s institutional racism.

In that joint statement, President Nelson said:

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to affirm its fundamental doctrine—and our heartfelt conviction—that all people are God’s precious children and therefore our brothers and sisters. All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Today, in unity with such capable and impressive leaders as the national officials of the NAACP, we are impressed to call on people of this nation and, indeed, the entire world to demonstrate greater civility, racial and ethnic harmony and mutual respect.”

On Friday, June 1, there will be a big meeting at the conference center to celebrate the many contributions of black Latter-day Saints and to commemorate 40 years since the revelation was received which lifted the priesthood restriction, which had limited full participation of people of African descent. This is another highly significant event and I’m looking forward to it.

While all this is very exciting, it begs the very legitimate questions: “Why was there a priesthood restriction to begin with? If all are alike onto God, why would He allow this discriminatory practice to exist in His church for more than 120 years?”

While our founding prophet Joseph Smith ordained some black men to the priesthood, the restriction policy was implemented under Brigham Young in the context of a country that practiced black slavery and viewed people of African descent as being inferior in order to justify such a terrible practice.

Today we know that this is not the case. All races, ethnicities and nationalities are equal in the sight of God; they are his beloved sons and daughters. As clearly stated in 2 Nephi 26:33 in the Book of Mormon:

“And he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

And yet, the restriction policy persisted and many were harmed as a result. It is my opinion that the Lord would have gladly ended the restriction policy much earlier if members of the church had been ready for it. But we weren’t. Old habits die hard. Old beliefs and prejudices are difficult to root out. The Lord respects our agency and is patient with us because he has an eternal perspective.

It wasn’t until 1978, years after the civil rights movement had paved the way, when then church president Spencer W. Kimball pleaded with the Lord in the Salt Lake Temple over the course of several months, for revelation on this matter. He eventually received a strong confirmation that the time had come and the rest of the apostles (the youngest of which at the time was Thomas S. Monson) agreed. The news was announced to the media and immediately black Latter-day Saints began to be ordained to the priesthood and to enjoy the blessings of the temple. I was just three years old, so I don’t remember it personally, but I remember speaking to my father about the day he heard about the revelation. He said he and many others were elated. My father served a mission in racially diverse South America in areas where the priesthood restriction was keenly felt.

Unfortunately, we still deal with the negative effects of racism in our country and within the church today. During the years prior to the revelation, many doctrinal speculations arose to try to explain the restriction policy. Unfortunately, these explanations may have reinforced ideas of racial inequality within our culture.

Regarding these previous teachings, Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave a wonderful talk at BYU in August 1978, just two months after the revelation. He said:

“Forget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or President George Q. Cannon or whoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world. It doesn’t make a particle of difference what anybody ever said about it before the first day of June 1978. It is a new day and a new arrangement, and the Lord has now given the revelation that sheds light out into the world on this subject.“

Wow! This quote is especially remarkable as it comes from an apostle whose first edition of the book “Mormon Doctrine” had advanced several “folklore doctrines” regarding the restriction, including the idea that blacks were cursed because they were less valiant in the pre-mortal existence.

In 2006, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in general conference:

“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.”

President Hinckley continues: “Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you that no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible? There is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such.”

One of my heroes is a black Latter-day Saint named Darius Gray who joined the church prior to the revelation when he and his family were not allowed to enjoy all of the blessings of the restored gospel. But he had faith that the Lord would hear the prayers of his people and reveal His will to the prophet.

Brother Gray recently wrote a phenomenal article that can be found on the church’s website. He wrote:

“As we endeavor to heal the wounds of racism, it is critically important to understand that negative ideas toward others based on racial or cultural differences hurt not only those who are the focus of such an attitude; they hurt the practitioner just as much, if not more. We are Christians, disciples of Christ, yet when we allow the attitudes of the world to infiltrate our minds to the point of blindness about their existence, we limit our progress toward that which our Father expects us to become, and we enter into a sin that often has lasting consequences.

“I am black, an African-American convert who this year celebrates with millions of members the 40th anniversary of the priesthood being extended to all worthy male members. Since that time, Church leaders have fully disavowed past speculation for why the priesthood was withheld… unfortunately, racially insensitive comments and attitudes concerning persons of color have not all gone away yet.”

(Click here for Darius Gray’s full article.)

In 2013, the church published a landmark essay in the Gospel Topics section of its website. It is a wonderful, comprehensive and straightforward treatment of this subject. I love its concluding paragraph:

“Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”

(Click here to read the full essay.)

We may think we are not affected personally by racism in 2018, but we must remember that animosity and discrimination can be directed to any group, not just blacks. Racism can be directed to any group FROM any group. The enmity that stems from pride also manifests itself in nationalism, sexism and other “isms” that cause us to feel superior to others. We must root these un-Christlike feelings out of our hearts.

Let me conclude by quoting once more from Brother Gray:

“How are we to judge when are our thoughts and comments might be out of line with gospel teachings? Consider how the following examples could represent racism. How would the Lord have you change your heart if you recognize that you:

  • Prefer associating only with those of your own race and think others should too.
  • Believe it’s OK to discriminate when selling or renting a home.
  • Don’t initiate a friendship (or respond to friendly overtures) because of racial differences.
  • Aren’t happy if your children associate with those of a particular race.
  • Would have difficulty welcoming someone of a particular race into your family circle.
  • Feel less compassion toward those of a different race who suffer the effects of poverty, war, famine, crime, and so on.
  • Assume that a person of another race (or who looks different) must be from another country.
  • Make jokes or disparaging remarks relating to someone’s race or a racial group.
  • Believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ supports any racist thinking or behavior.
  • Justify racist attitudes or behaviors because of similar attitudes or behaviors shown by other good people, including Church leaders or members.

If you recognize any of these thoughts or attitudes in yourself, you have identified an opportunity to grow and become more Christlike as you work to overcome them.”

I am extremely grateful for the gift of revelation that helps us move the Lord’s work forward. I’m also thankful for the gift of faith that allows me to maintain a vibrant testimony of the gospel, even when aspects of our history, culture and doctrine are troubling. We can exercise faith even when our leaders occasionally make mistakes. We make them too. The Lord is perfect, we are not. But we can move forward with energy and enthusiasm, correcting mistakes from the past and adjusting our beliefs and attitudes according to the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is based on God’s unconditional love for all his children.

**Update June 10, 2018

In his remarks at the event on Friday, June 1, President Dallin H. Oaks said that after the revelation that all worthy males could receive the priesthood, institutionally, the Church reacted swiftly — ordinations and temple recommends came immediately. The reasons that had been given to try to explain the prior restrictions on members of African ancestry — even those previously voiced by revered Church leaders — were promptly and publicly disavowed.

“In contrast, changes in the hearts and practices of individual members did not come suddenly and universally. Some accepted the effects of the revelation immediately and gracefully. Some accepted gradually. But some, in their personal lives, continued the attitudes of racism that have been painful to so many throughout the world, including the past 40 years. Others have wanted to look back, concentrating attention on re-examining the past, including seeking reasons for the now-outdated restrictions.

However, most in the Church, including its senior leadership, have concentrated on the opportunities of the future rather than the disappointments of the past. They have trusted the wisdom and timing of the Lord and accepted the directions of His prophet.”

 
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Posted by on May 20, 2018 in Year In Review

 

Latter-day Pharisees: How Cultural Perfectionism Distracts Us from the Essence of the Gospel

When I was a kid, I remember reading in the scriptures that “no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God” (Alma 40:26). I was terrified that I’d arrive at the fabled “Pearly Gates” and St. Peter would look at the record of my life and say, “Hey, I’m really sorry, but there were a couple of sins that slipped through the cracks which you didn’t repent for — so go to hell.”

Thankfully, I’ve since come to understand and appreciate the atonement of Jesus Christ and its crucial role in our salvation. Christ is not simply a cheerleader on the sidelines who makes up the little amount we lack at the end of our lives. His sinless sacrifice is absolutely essential to our salvation “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

In the October 2017 LDS General Conference, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed how the lofty ideals of the sermon on the mount can leave us feeling discouraged. The final commandment in that scripture passage seems unattainable. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

Elder Holland states: “With that concluding imperative, we want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our head. Such celestial goals seem beyond our reach. Yet surely the Lord would never give us a commandment He knew we could not keep. Jesus did not intend His sermon on this subject to be a verbal hammer for battering us about our shortcomings. No, I believe He intended it to be a tribute to who and what God the Eternal Father is and what we can achieve with Him in eternity.”

Latter-day Saints are given many commandments, rules, counsel and guidance that can often be overwhelming and discouraging. The gap between who we are and who we know we should be is often wide.

President Russell M. Nelson taught: “My heart goes out to conscientious Saints, who, because of their shortcomings, allow feelings of depression to rob them of happiness in life. We all need to remember: men are that they might have joy — not guilt trips!”

My goal now is not to focus on being sinless since that’s impossible in this mortal life, but to focus instead on “healthy striving” for improvement.

The Pharisee Trap

Now that we’ve addressed the discouragement that comes from seeking perfection without the merits of Christ to exalt us, let’s explore another dangerous trap — the tendency to focus on outward appearances instead of the core of the gospel, which is loving and serving God and others.

When I study the words of Jesus in the New Testament, I find that the group the Lord is most prone to criticize isn’t the publicans and sinners, who were outwardly the most wicked. No, his harshest words were directed to the most “righteous” group — the religious zealots. The scribes and Pharisees were ostensibly the most righteous group in ancient Israel. They were VERY careful to follow all the commandments and yet the Lord called them out: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto ​​​whited​ ​​​sepulchers​, which indeed appear ​​​beautiful​ outward, but are within full of dead ​men’s​ bones, and of all ​​​uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Ouch! Jesus called these men hypocrites and insisted that their outward perfection did not match their inner corruption. Sometimes the word “hypocrite” is used incorrectly. It does NOT mean someone who strives to live the commandments all the time but occasionally falls short. It means someone who professes outward beliefs contrary to his true inner self.

Consider this chilling scripture in Matthew 7:21-23 which I believe applies to many outwardly pious people in every religion: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

I worry that despite all my cultural righteousness, I may not be developing an intimacy with the divine — that I may not really recognize Him if I haven’t really taken the time to know Him.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar in the Catholic Church, wrote: “The most common temptation for all of us is to use belonging to the right group and practicing its proper rituals as a substitute for any personal or life-changing encounter with the Divine.”

Do we get so caught up in the outward expressions of our faith that we neglect the inner transformation that God requires? “And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Nephi 9:20).

Brent Top, Dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, recently wrote: “Generally speaking, Latter-day Saints are an obedient and sincere people. In our desire to be faithful in all things, however, we may have created a culture that at some times and in some ways can unwittingly put too much emphasis on our outward conformity and in turn creates unrealistic and even false standards of righteousness. While we must of necessity measure some things by discernible behavior, we may see that behavior as the end in itself and forget that it is the means to an end—an inner being molded into the image of Christ. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, we may put a lot of social pressure on each other to manifest openly measurable good works—the more measurable, the better.

We should remember the wise adage that commandments are stars to guide us and not sticks with which to beat ourselves. Church programs can also create rigid expectations if not administered with love, flexibility, and sensitivity. The inspired programs that were intended to lead us to salvation are the very things that sometimes discourage, overwhelm, and seemingly condemn us because of their constant requirements.”

Brother Top concludes: “People and their needs are more important than programs and their demands.”

Do we assume that someone who is clean shaven and wearing a white shirt to church is more righteous than the man with a beard and a colored shirt? Do we clean the church, do our ministering visits, research our ancestors, build up our food storage, work on scouting or personal progress advancements with a heart filled with love and a desire to glorify God or are we just going through the motions? Are we overly concerned about having our good works be seen of men?

Ricard Ostler, a former YSA bishop, recently suggested that judging clouds our vision and obscures our ability to see others as precious sons and daughters of God. He wrote:

“Do we have thoughts like: Is that skirt to high? Is that a double pierced ear? Why is he home from his mission early? Why is she in that political party? Is he acting on his same-sex attraction? I wonder why he didn’t take the sacrament? Why didn’t her marriage work? Why doesn’t he date? Why is she working outside the home? Why is he not wearing a white shirt? Why does she have tattoos? Doesn’t she know her body is a temple? Why hasn’t his mission call come yet? Why didn’t he serve a mission? Why did he march in that cause?  When reading a wedding invitation focusing on if is a temple marriage and not being able to equally celebrate both types of marriages? Why do they go skiing on Sunday every other week? Why haven’t they had kids yet? What is going on with that Bishopric member with a goatee?”

Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

In our quest for eventual perfection, it is crucial to strive to see ourselves and others as God sees us. That is what the ancient Pharisees failed to do, but it is something we MUST do. We need to develop more compassion for ourselves and others in this journey to become more like Christ.

One of my favorite scriptures is Moroni 10:32: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” Note, Moroni says that we can be perfected “IN HIM” not through our own merits. He then pleads: “Love God with all your might, mind and strength, then … by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ.” Again, he says perfect IN CHRIST.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of hope. We hope that one day, through the merits of our Redeemer, we can be made whole, complete, finished — all synonyms for the New Testament’s usage of the word “perfect.” Let us avoid the discouragement that comes with unrealistic expectations of ourselves. Let us avoid the trap of the Pharisees by not allowing judgement of others and cultural perfectionism to distract us from the essence of the gospel — loving unconditionally and serving unselfishly.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2018 in Year In Review

 

My Facebook Rules

A friend of my recently joined Facebook and I offered him some suggestions since I’m such an avid Facebooker. Here are my personal Facebook rules developed over the past ten years:

Share original content whenever possible. If you must share a link to an article, make some commentary on why you think it’s interesting instead of just posting it.

Avoid complaining on Facebook, but don’t be afraid to be real about your struggles from time to time. It really is helpful for people to see that your life isn’t all roses and that we share similar struggles and frustrations.

Avoid posting too much on a single subject (like theater or running). Mix it up in order to remain interesting.

Avoid posts and language that would appear too self-aggrandizing. No one likes a braggart.

Avoid controversial subjects since it often results in people fighting each other online and no one really changes their mind. If you feel you must engage in online argument, be respectful and always strive to validate the other person’s points that you CAN agree with.

Avoid using Facebook for personal enrichment or business purposes.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your faith as it is an important part of you, but keep religious posts more broad so that those who are not of your faith can benefit.

Don’t embarrass or shame people in posts or comments, even when they’re being confrontational or rude.

Stay positive and uplifting. Make people look forward to your posts by making sure each post is interesting, amusing or inspiring.

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I don’t always live up to these ideals, but the guiding principles have helped me create a positive online persona that hopefully is a positive influence.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2018 in Year In Review

 

General Conference Observations – April 2018

I want to start this post by sharing this image of the moment when the new president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was sustained by its membership in general conference. President Russell M. Nelson is a wonderful man who has given his life to serving others! I wish him well.

As many are saying, this was a truly historic conference — a new first presidency was sustained, two new apostles were called of diverse backgrounds (including Elder Soares who is from São Paulo, Brazil where I served my mission), seven new temples were announced (including one in Russia and one in India) and some major changes to the structure of priesthood quorums and the home teaching and visiting teaching programs were announced. It is on these last two items that I would like to share some thoughts.

First, I think combining the elders quorum and the high priests into a single Melchizedek priesthood quorum is a wonderful, inspired decision. I have long wished that we were combined. I was called as a counselor in a bishopric in Riverton when I was 31 years old and ordained a high priest. Ever since then, I have been unable to meet with the elders quorum. And while I have loved meeting with and learning from the older men, I have missed spending time with men my own age. In addition, I know several men who were older when they were ordained high priests and it felt somewhat awkward for them to still be in elders quorum having not yet “advanced” in the priesthood.

By having all men meet together, there will be less of a distinction between which priesthood office one holds. I believe this will help curb the pridefulness that could accompany one’s attainment of a certain priesthood office (i.e. “I’m more worthy and the Lord loves/trusts me more.”)

From a practical standpoint, this reduces the number of men who are serving in a Melchizedek priesthood presidency in any given ward from 8 to 4 (including secretaries). This frees up men who can now serve in other places, such as primary, Sunday school and the young men programs. There will be less duplication of effort, more of a joint focus and better coordination with the Relief Society.

Some have suggested this change is a sign of weakness, that the church is struggling to fill positions needed and therefore has eliminated some positions to help with staffing. Others have said that combining the two groups is being done so that older, more conservative men will keep in check the younger, more progressive men. I worry that the older, more experienced men might receive a disproportionate number of leadership callings, thereby depriving the younger men the opportunity to develop their priesthood leadership skills. However, as Elder Chistofferson taught: “This is not a ‘takeover’ of elders quorums by high priests. We expect elders and high priests to work together in any combination in the quorum presidency and in quorum service.”

My hope is that we can all learn from each other and serve each other in our new combined quorums. I think the elders and high priests need each other. I look forward to the opportunity to develop multigenerational friendships and for chances to serve alongside men from different backgrounds and age groups. I think sometimes high priest groups have been viewed as men being “put out to pasture.” This potentially increases their confined active involvement in the Lord’s work in their wards.

As for the “retirement” of home teaching and visiting teaching, I believe this is essentially just a modification of the program — adding more flexibility and customization in the way we interact with those to whom we “minister.”

By ending the language around home teaching and visiting teaching, many of the old traditions (which were often ineffective) will end. No more stressing about trying to get an appointment before the end of the month. No more checking the boxes and going through the motions.

I think this will be a total reboot for the church. We will have all new priesthood presidencies who will work together with the Relief Society presidencies in their wards/branches to overhaul the entire system. We will have new companionships, including some father/son, mother/daughter and husband/wife combinations, along with traditional companionships. Instead of high priests only home teaching the families of other high priests, families will be assigned by inspiration based on needs regardless of quorum affiliation. There will be a nice mix of older and younger companionships and families assigned.

We will also add young women into the teaching pool which will be a blessing to them and those they visit. I’m excited for my two daughters to have this opportunity to serve as “ministering sisters.” They’ll be able to learn from the older sisters, become comfortable with ministering “two by two” (which can prepare them better for missionary service) and will improve the eventual transition to Relief Society.

I have heard concerns that this will result in less contact not more. If people aren’t accountable to report their visits each month, they might put in the minimal effort such as a quick text every so often. A regular “in person” visit with a lesson may now feel like going against the new direction. Without a set protocol, perhaps many people will do little more than say hello at church or send a text with a scripture.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. I just hope our “ministering” efforts are more heartfelt, earnest and sincere as we strive to follow the Savior’s example of selfless service.

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2018 in Year In Review

 

Facebook and Me – 10th Anniversary

Facebook has reminded me that I joined TEN years ago today. When I first heard about this social networking website I thought “Facebook? What a stupid name!” Now I check the site multiple times each day on my phone (read: addict).

Robin was my first Facebook “friend” and, according to our friend-iversary video, we like each other a lot — 1,672 times so far.

In the early days, we referred to ourselves in the third person for some reason. (i.e. “Andrew is looking forward to a fun date with his wife tonight.”) We rarely posted photos because we didn’t have smart phones then, and we checked the site once or twice a week. We often shared mundane stuff — “Andrew is getting ready to do the dishes.” 😂

For better or for worse, Facebook has become a major part of my life. It is here that I interact regularly with friends, old and new. Facebook allows me to see what my friends are doing, what events they’re attending and what they are thinking about. I get to read lots of opinions from multiple perspectives.

Yes, there is sometimes unnecessary drama and some online interactions get out of control. I find it fascinating that social media allows us to freely exercise our First Amendment rights, checked only by our own sense of decorum.

Some criticize online socializing as being inferior to face-to-face interactions. I agree. However, for me, Facebook simply enhances my social connections. I can think of dozens of instances over the past decade where my online interactions have led to a lunch, an activity or a reunion with friends that I would have otherwise lost touch with. Other friendships, which simply aren’t practical to maintain in person due to geographic separation and busy lives, can still thrive in this space. For that I’m extremely grateful.

An entertainer to my core, I see Facebook as a virtual stage to inform, amuse and maybe even inspire a bit. “Likes” are my virtual applause, although I much prefer comments on my posts as it’s a better way of connecting with friends, which is my primary reason for being on Facebook.

Is there a danger in oversharing, in becoming addicted to that virtual limelight? Absolutely. Is there a tendency to “humble brag” or to not be fully genuine as one carefully crafts one’s online persona/brand? Sure. I’m fully aware of these perils and frequently fret about whether I’m using this medium appropriately.

One of my brothers (who considers himself an introvert and rarely checks Facebook) once told me that Facebook is perfect for someone like me — an entertainer and an extreme extrovert. When all is said and done, it’s relationships that matter most. I’m on Facebook because of you; because I value our connection so much.

Thanks for your friendship!

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2018 in Year In Review

 

2017 Year in Review: Lambert Family

2017 was a very memorable year for our family. Like everyone, we had lots of ups and downs, but we’re grateful for the opportunity to create fond memories and to grow by facing challenges.

We took our family to Oahu, Hawaii for spring break and enjoyed five days in the sunshine and beach together. We explored the island and visited the Polynesian Cultural Center, Pearl Harbor and various beaches. We even got to tour the royal palace and see where they filmed various movies including Jurassic Park.

In June, we took our oldest son on a senior trip to Southern California, where we enjoyed a day at Universal Studios, a tour of the Warner Brothers back lot and a visit to Hollywood. We even rented a convertible yellow Camero for a day to try to look cool.

Robin and I had our 20th wedding anniversary in August and we celebrated with a trip to Paris and London in early November. We packed a lot into six days in those two amazing cities, and I’m so very grateful we had that chance to see so many iconic buildings, museums and works of art. Robin loves to travel and experience new things, so we’re very blessed to enjoy these trips together.

I had a great year at work at US Bank (my best ever) and continue to help businesses get access to the financing they need to grow. My calling on the stake high council has been wonderful as I get to speak in various wards around Traverse Mountain, as well as work with the youth and their leaders. I had the privilege of serving on the staff for a Woodbadge course in June (advance leadership training created by the BSA) and gained some great friendships.

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In the fall, I had the chance to play Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family Musical” with the Sandy Arts Guild. I made some wonderful new friends from the cast/crew and had a blast singing several solos, duets and group numbers, speaking with a Spanish accent, dancing the Tango and doing some sword fighting. I also enjoyed attending more than 20 different theatrical presentations, many of which involved my theater friends.

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I continued to struggle with weight gain in 2017 and put on another 25 pounds – already up from the 25 I gained in 2016. This was very discouraging for me, but I only have myself to blame for not being more careful. I have resolved to do better in 2018.

Robin worked at Interior Concepts throughout the year and designed some wonderful model homes for local homebuilders. She honed her skills and really put her education and talents to work. She decided, for personal and professional reasons, to quit her job in November and plans to start her own business in 2018. I’m excited for this new venture and hope it will be a blessing for her.

We decided to make some improvements to our home on Lehi and started by replacing all the original flooring. We love the new hardwood on the main floor and the soft carpet in other areas of the house.


Parley, our oldest son, graduated from high school and is now a freshman at BYU, living in Helaman Halls. It was far more difficult for me than I expected to have one of my children move out (I’m a sentimental person) and I made sure to take him to lunch once a week. He’s enjoying living on his own and adjusting to the responsibilities of adulthood.

Brianna is a junior at Skyridge High School and buses tables at the upscale Harvest Restaurant at Thanksgiving Point, working 15-20 hours per week since March. She spends her spare time doing homework, drawing and playing the piano and cello. She’s really close to getting her drivers license – she just needs a few more hours of practice.

Lily is in 8th grade at Lehi Junior and enjoys spending time with friends and working on various musical theater projects. She played Gabriella in Lehi Arts Council’s production of “High School Musical Jr.” and started taking musical theater class with Alpine Theater. She is often heard singing Broadway hits from “Hamilton” or “Wicked” and loves spending time with her friends.

James is in 5th grade and is such a curious, intelligent boy with a fun sense of humor. He has struggled quite a bit this year with emotional regulation and hyperactivity. We’ve been to counseling, visited various doctors and have tried many different combinations of medications to help him. We’ve been disappointed not to get better results for his condition, as the combination of emotional/mental challenges make it hard for him to function at school. Thankfully, he has a great teacher and a lot of people who are trying to help him. We look forward to improvements in the new year.

Our pets are doing well. Buddy is 14 years old and next month will be 100 in dog years. He is slowing down a lot lately and can’t easily go up or down stairs. I’m thinking we’ll have to put him down in the next few months, which is a sad thought. On the bright side, our cat Zoey gave birth to 11 kittens (two litters) and they lived with us for several months this year. We kept one of the kittens and named her Winnie. Now we have a dog, three cats, a snake and some goldfish as part of the Lambert menagerie.


We feel very fortunate to have so many wonderful family and friends that enrich our lives so much. Happy New Year, everyone!

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Posted by on December 31, 2017 in Year In Review