Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Talk: Opposition & Agency

I delivered this talk in Sacrament meeting on January 25th, 2009:

[Good morning brothers and sisters.]

I am privileged for this opportunity to speak here in Sacrament meeting and pray that the Spirit has been with me as I prepared this talk. Before I begin though, I’d like to just share a few updates on my family. My son is in his first year of primary and from what I can tell, he really enjoys it. I think there are six or seven kids in his class and knowing how rambunctious those kids are, all I have to say is that the Bishop owes Sister Ferguson big time! Julieta is teaching full time in primary and has quite the class herself. I’m really proud of how well she’s handled her kids. I can see how much she loves them and they love her in the way they’re quick to give her a hug. She has also been enjoying Activity Days with Sister Smith and Sister Parry. For myself, and I say this with true sincerity, I have really enjoyed Gospel Doctrine and the opportunity to lead our discussions on the most important things we have to learn in this life. I am excited for the New Year and believe we’ll have meaningful lessons on the Doctrine & Covenants and the history of our Church.

Let me just start my talk by sharing a small story that demonstrates what my talk is about. Bear with me if you’ve heard it before:
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me!" he cried. 

Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.
Now, what this story demonstrates, in a rather simplistic way is that although we will all face opposition in our lives, every obstacle we encounter will be for our good. “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things,” said an ancient prophet. And this is the very topic of which I have been asked to speak about.

Opposition. To oppose is defined as “to act against or provide resistance to.” Everything we do in life, from the moment we are born, is met with some degree of opposition. This is true. A baby, unable to meet its own needs, must depend on mom and dad. In this sense, the baby is in opposition to itself. The ever-returning ailments of hunger and illness that affect every mortal being are opposition. I could really lay down every way we’re opposed by the natural world and in our every-day lives, but that would be boring and Brother Dalde really wants you to stay awake so you won’t miss his talk.

But really, what Lehi said is the definition of life itself, “opposition in all things.” And now that we understand the “what” of life, let us understand the “why”? Opposition can come in some very nasty ways. It seems that in every generation on back to Adam there has been violence and wars on the Earth. Aside from those who purposefully wield armor and weapon and proceed to the battle lines, there are those who suffer and die who are innocent. They call them “collateral damage”. I personally hate that phrase and find it impossible to ever justify collateral damage. This is obviously the nastier side of opposition.

What is never lacking is the blame thrown at God for allowing such bad things to happen to innocent people. As the lone islander yelled, “God, how could you do this to me!” Yes, God did allow it to happen. God did allow those evil people to bring suffering to your life. He did not intervene and prevent it as I believe he could. So, what of it? Does it mean that God does not exist? Does it mean that God is made up?

I am here to tell you that I believe that God exists and that he represents everything that is good. I believe too that “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” If this were not so, then we could not become like God. And that is the “why” to life.

Through my own study and prayer, I have come to believe in Christ and to believe that he atoned for my sins. I have come to believe that God exists and that I can return to live with him again. I have developed enough faith in this prospect that I am able to accept any and all opposition that presents itself in my life. I know that it is for my own good. I know that it can only make me wiser, and stronger, and take me higher. It has become so easy for me to praise God for the trials, and they have not been few, that I have experienced in my life. You can ask my wife. It has often been a discussion between us. As you may or may not know, my wife has a disease in her eyes that prevents her from using a computer or driving. It’s difficult for her even to read comfortably. I call her my nineteenth century wife.

She recently passed her citizenship test and will soon take her oath of allegiance to this country. She will be the first in her family to become a United States citizen. It has been quite a journey for her over the last ten years. The Lord has blessed me with her and has blessed her with me. And has blessed both of us with our son. Don’t get me wrong, our lives are blessed but they are not peachy. Far from it. We’ve had our share of marital difficulties. And over the last couple of years we’ve been fighting to have another child. The Lord has decided that the time is not yet right to give us another one of his children to raise here in mortality. And we have accepted this but understand the things we must do to get to that point.

But enough about that. We may or may not all understand, so I’ll elaborate, that God has given each of us to be “agents unto ourselves”. This means that we have been allowed to make our own choices in life. It was not the will of God that we all be programmed to behave and return to him. What would be the point of the whole thing, after all? On the contrary, God has given us the power to think, to choose, and to act. Unfortunately, there are those who abuse that power to step on others. The scriptures contain a story about a man named Joseph who was kidnapped by his brothers and sold as a slave in Egypt. I remember giving a lesson in Young Men’s about this story. I learned a lot from it. This story goes on to show that no matter what happened to Joseph, no matter all the freedoms he lost, he still had his agency. He could still think, choose, and act. Even under the great oppression that he endured. There are many examples of choice men and women using their agency righteously under dire circumstances. This is the gift of agency that God has given us. How we choose to exercise it under the heaviest of opposition will determine what we will learn and how well we will learn it.

So we become wiser and stronger, so what? What is it all for? I believe that the only way we can have all that God has; the only way that we can become gods and goddesses, and kings and queens, is through the experiences we have here in mortality, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Because opposition is a law written in heaven, to give us necessary experience and be for our good, Heavenly Father sent his Only Begotten Son to descend below all things; to suffer all things, to pay for the sins of all mankind, and then to rise again. Understanding what Christ did for us will give us the power we need to overcome every obstacle. Not only did he atone for our sins, but he provided the way for us to follow. He took upon himself all the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain and suffering ever felt and to be felt by mankind, so that we can both be clean, if we repent, and feel comfort knowing that he has been through what we are going through. And that gives us a tremendous amount of power.

Here to summarize just what the Lord went through is the prophet Wilford Woodruff:
Jesus Christ descended below all things that he might rise above all things and comprehend all things. No man descended lower than the Savior of the world. Born in a stable, cradled in a manger, he travelled from there to the cross through suffering mingled with blood to a throne of grace; and in all his life there was nothing of an earthly nature that seemed to be worth possessing. His whole life was passed in poverty, suffering, pain, affliction, labor, prayer, mourning and sorrow until he gave up the ghost on the cross. Still he was God’s firstborn son and the Redeemer of the world. The question might be asked why the Lord suffered his Son to come here and to live and die as he did. When we get into the spirit world, and the veil is withdrawn we shall then perhaps understand the whys and wherefores of all these things.

In the dispensations and providences of God to man it seems that we are born to suffer pain, affliction, sorrows and trials; this is what God has decreed that the human family shall pass through; and if we make a right use of this probation, the experience it brings will eventually prove a great blessing to us, and when we receive immortality and eternal life, exaltation, kingdoms, thrones, principalities and powers with all the blessings of the fullness of the gospel of Christ, we shall understand and comprehend why we were called to pass through a continual warfare during the few years we spent in the flesh.
I believe that God gave us agency for two reasons. The first is so that we are free to think and to choose and to act. This means that we have it in our power to do good or to do evil. Heavenly Father will judge everyone by the desires of their heart and according to the law that they have received. The second reason is so that we can look back at how we lived and know that we chose our path every step of the way. This will cause us to see clearly the sins that we committed. It will allow us to understand our guilt and know that God’s judgment for us is just.

As Jacob in the Book of Mormon so eloquently put it, speaking of the Resurrection:
Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea, even with the robe of righteousness.
One of the unique doctrines of our Church is that God has a plan for us. It’s called the Plan of Salvation, or even the Plan of Happiness. Like most people living who yearn to have and raise children, Heavenly Father, being exalted, chose to create spirit children for Himself. Once complete, there was a great council in Heaven regarding what his children should do to become like him. The Plan of Salvation was thus created and even though a third of his children rejected it, most accepted and chose for themselves to come to Earth to receive not only a body, but the necessary experience to obtain the Celestial Kingdom and fulfill our destiny to become like God. The magnitude of what this means can not truly be comprehended by us mere mortals. But we can try. We can look at our trials and opposition with an eternal perspective. We must open to our view all that our immortal spirits have been through up to this point, (our creation, the council, the pre-existence) and look forward to that glorious coming day that our soul will be redeemed and our judgment received; to again be with our Father in Heaven, and move upward through the eternities, with our partners. In this perceptive, our lives here are but a small moment, but a very important one. It is here, in this probationary period, that we are molded by the hand of God. Brigham Young put it this way:
All intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.
I want to conclude with my testimony. I believe in God. I believe in Christ. I believe that Christ died to pay for my sins, if I repent of them. I believe that His priesthood has been restored to the Earth in these latter-days, and that all of the keys thereof are held and exercised by living prophets and apostles. I am trying, like all of you, to keep the commandments and resist temptation. But it is hard. It is very hard but I know that I can endure. All I need to do is have faith in what Christ has done for me. And I do.

I ask Heavenly Father now if he will bless this ward, and this stake, and this Church, and all of his sons and daughters, that they may be comforted and find the happiness that they need. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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