Sunday, September 30, 2018

My Journey to Become a Man of GodTalk at Frisco 5th Ward

Talk given at Frisco 5th            Sept. 30, 2018

I grew up in a small town in Southern Utah.  As a boy, I rode horses, hunted, and drove a tractor when I was still too small to reach the pedals - I had to get off the seat to press the clutch and brake. 
I milked the cow and we made our own butter, ice cream, whipped cream, and lye soap.  We had a quarter acre of garden, and a couple dozen fruit and nut trees.   We butchered our own meat, and bottled hundreds of quart jars of fruit and vegetables each fall.
Mom came from Mormon Pioneer stock, but Dad was not affiliated with any church.  He encouraged us to go to church and supported the idea of my siblings and I getting baptized when we were 8 years old.  However, on Sundays he often wanted to go up to the mountains or out to the desert and he wanted us to go with him, which we usually did.  So there was always a hint of conflict about the church.
My best friend, Rex, was in the exact same situation.  His father was not a member of the church either, and his mother was.  His, and my, siblings had to choose individually whether to become active. 
When we were 16, Rex and I returned from an afternoon washing his big Pontiac.  When we got to my house, we talked for a couple of hours about what we were going to do about the church.  Many of our peers didn’t give a hoot  about the church, even though they were members.  Rex said he didn’t want to be wishy-washy.  He wanted to be all in, or else he wanted to be all out.  I agreed.   We talked about both sides, but by the end of the evening we had decided we wanted to be all in.  It was Saturday night, so we decided to meet in the morning and go to church together.
This illustrates how important it is to pick the best of your peers to be your friends.  Rex was a tremendous positive influence in my life, and I think I was the same in his.   After that, the two of us remained active in the church.  We even shared a dorm room at BYU until he left on his mission.
Early in my 3rd year at BYU I met Liz, a lovely girl that I adored.  I still do.  She grew up in a suburb of Chicago, and her entire family had joined the church when she was 12.  To her dismay, when we met I had already enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was just waiting to report to boot camp.  The Viet Nam War was at its peak at that time and that loomed over us.  But we had a couple of lovely months together before I left, and then we had a courtship by mail and phone.  After a year of that, with the knowledge that I was NOT going to be sent to Viet Nam, we were married in the Manti Temple.  We have been active in the church continuously.  This illustrates how important it is to pick the best of your love interests to be your spouse.  Your best friend and your spouse have tremendous influence in how you will live your life, including your relationship with God.  Liz has been an unshakable support to me in my spiritual life.
We have 6 children, 3 boys and 3 girls.  Four of them served missions.   And we have 20 grandchildren – the joy of our lives.   We love them all, and wish more of them were near by.
We moved to Plano about 27 or 28 years ago,   and  recently bought our townhouse in the Hemingway development.
So that’s the short version of our background.  Now I’d like to tell you about my journey to become a Man of God.
Several years ago, I drove up to Utah.  I was going alone on that trip, so I had 4 conferences on CD to listen to as I drove.   In one of the talks the speaker was talking about The Savior’s encounter with the rich young man.  His meeting is described in the books of Mark and Luke.   Mark didn’t give him any kind of title, but Luke called him a “ruler”.  Both described him running after Jesus and asking, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” 
Jesus first objected to being called “Good”, and then he gave the 25 cent answer to the man’s 25 cent question:  “Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.”    
At this point, it seems like Jesus considered it to be just a casual conversation, a no brainer - but the rich young man took it to another level:  “And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.”  This phrase really struck me – all these have I observed from my youth.   I too have observed the commandments from my youth. 
Mark then describes something curious:  “Then Jesus beholding him, loved him”.  It’s like Jesus hadn’t even noticed him - until he asked the follow-up question.  And taking a second look, he liked what he saw in this young man’s soul.
So Jesus said, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.” 
Jesus used similar words when he called his apostles – “Come!  Follow me.”  I think that is significant.  The man had potential.
But this young man came up short.  Mark continues, “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”  Well.  So much for the rich young man.  He walked away into obscurity.  We do not hear of  him again.
Back to my trip to Utah.  As I listened to the account in the conference talk, it struck me very forcefully that “Yet lackest thou one thing” could apply to me, personally.  I’d heard, and read, that story many, many times, but this time I heard it as if it was me in the story.  I turned off the recording and thought about it as I drove.  I too had observed the commandments from my youth, and I too lacked things.  As I was thinking this the sprit said, “Yet lackest thou one thing” and as I heard him, I knew the one thing I was lacking most.  I didn’t hear a physical voice, but it was very clear in my mind and couldn’t be ignored.  The one thing I lacked: My personal prayers had gotten lax – too casual, and of little consequence.  They were 25 cent prayers.   I needed to up my game and have constant prayer,  - and bless every meal,  - and have more consistent prayers with my wife.  If I wanted million dollar blessings, I couldn’t say 25 cent prayers.  I needed to do just that one thing:  Significant Prayer.
As I drove along, I made a commitment to do my one thing and make it a permanent change.  I kept it in mind for the duration of my trip and when I got back home I kept at it.  I was amazed at the difference it made.  My prayers became something much more than they’d been.  And as I said more significant prayers, I learned how to make them even better.
After a week or two with prayer in my life more fully than it had been, it occurred to me that I was on the right path with prayer.  As I had that thought the spirit said, “Yet lackest thou one thing.”  Again, I knew exactly what my next one thing was.  I needed to spend more time reading and studying the scriptures.  I’d been putting in a 25 cent effort to read the scriptures.  So I went to work on that. 
When I was settled in to reading the scriptures every day I heard it again: “Yet lackest thou one thing.”  This time I needed to see everybody else the way Jesus saw people, and love them.  This one thing was harder.  I started going out of my way to give a smile and a friendly, “Hello,” to people who seemed down.  I started seeing them as my own, personal brothers and sisters. 
There was one woman I specifically remember from the office.  She walked along the halls with her head down, never making eye contact with white people.  So I deliberately walked into her path and just before we bumped into each other she looked up.  I gave her my biggest, friendliest smile, and said, “Hello.”  She was startled, but she said Hello back.  I went on my way.   But when I looked back she was holding her head up as she continued on her way.   For a guy who used to be too shy to ask for second helpings at dinner, that was pretty bold of me.
It occurred to me that Jesus wouldn’t let little things like terrorists affect how he treated people from the Arab World.  So I made that transition.  In fact, He wouldn’t see any races.  He would treat all people the same.
I worked on changing my attitude about other commuters, especially the ones who did really stupid things on highway 75.  That part of my one thing was especially difficult for me.  It still is.  I have to continually watch that carefully and I still slip up and think negative thoughts about other drivers some times.  And then I have to repent and re-commit to seeing them like Jesus would.
This process has been repeated many times.  I work on being a better person and when I think I’m doing good, the spirit whispers, “Yet lackest thou one thing.” And I get another thing to work on.  How humbling that is.
You might think that would get to be tiresome.  But it’s not!  It is glorious!  The feeling it gave me to be on the path to being a Man of God is hard to describe.  Happy, warm, excited are all part of it.   But mostly happy.
Right from the beginning of my journey I thought of it as learning to become a Man of God.  I WANT to be worthy of that title.   I have a long way to go, but I can see now, how to get there.
As this was going on, many blessings began to come our way.  Not too long after I started on my journey, Liz and I got a call from the temple to come down and visit with the president.   He called us to become temple ordinance workers.  What an enormous blessing it has been to be able to serve there.   I began to feel even closer to the spirit during our service at the temple and it lasts from week to week.  There is no way the temple president knew of my personal journey, but I know that calling came about because I was on the right path, and it blessed both of us.
My other callings took on a more serious note,  with increasing responsibility.  I count it a blessing that I was able to serve with some of the most inspiring men in the Plano Stake.  We developed strong bonds of brotherhood.  Much of my work was behind the scenes, doing things most people never hear about.   I am a strong introvert, so that was fine by me.  At the same time, some things were stretches: issuing callings, doing sustainings and giving talks from the pulpit, etc.  Just the things a man trying to become a Man of God would benefit from.
During all this time, I didn’t say anything to anybody about what I was trying to do, except for my wife, and I didn’t even share all of it with her.  She knows my faults very well, so I think she was sometimes puzzled about it when I told her certain things about my journey.  OTOH, she definitely noticed the change in me.  Our marriage is better, we are both happier, and we love serving others together.
Then I had a firm affirmation of the concept of becoming a Man or Woman of God during the  October 2015 Conference.  President Nelson   gave a very interesting talk entitled “A Plea to My Sisters” during the Sunday morning session.  He told some very touching stories about the strength of certain women leaders in the church.  He said, “We know that the culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman!   We need your strength!”  And then he went on to list the kind of spirit-building things the strong women in the church can, and should, do.
He ended by saying, “So today I plead with my sisters of The Church . . . to step forward!   Take your rightful and needful place in your home, in your community, and in the kingdom of God—more than you ever have before . . . .  And I promise you in the name of Jesus Christ that as you do so, the Holy Ghost will magnify your influence in an unprecedented way!”
As I listened to that talk, it suddenly occurred to me that he was describing exactly what I was doing.  He was asking the women of the church to become Women of God in the same way I was trying to become a Man of God.  He never explicitly said so at that time, though, so I kept that thought to myself.
Then in the April Conference in 2016, (the very next conference) he gave a talk during the Priesthood Session, entitled “The Price of Priesthood Power”. 
He started his talk by saying, “Six months ago in the October … general conference, I spoke to the sisters of the Church about their divine role as women of God.   Now I wish to speak to you brethren about your divine role as men of God.”
I was so excited to hear this!  He continued, I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood.   In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others.   Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.
President Nelson  loves to give lists he has developed through his own personal study.  He shared a list of questions for those men who want to become Men of God, and since he’s linked his two talks together, I think this applies to Women of God, too. 
1.      Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you. 
2.      Are you willing to search the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ—to study earnestly in order to have more power? 
3.      Are you willing to worship in the temple regularly? The Lord loves to do His own teaching in His holy house. 
4.      Are you willing to follow President Thomas S. Monson’s example of serving others? 
5.      And if you truly want more priesthood power, you will cherish and care for your spouse, embracing both her and her counsel.
And then he summarized by asking:  “Are we willing to pray, fast, study, seek, worship, and serve as men (and women) of God…?”     Today, I am telling you about my journey because I have a testimony that anybody who wants to feel the power and authority of God, live a more Christ-like life, and become a Man or Woman of God, can do so.  It is not hard,     although it takes a strong commitment to continually ask the questions that lead to the spirit telling you, “Yet lackest thou one thing.”
And I want to tell you that taking that journey is very, very worth it!  It is a wonderful thing to experience.
I pray that we can all overcome and do that one thing that will lead us forward  -   towards becoming a man or woman of God.  
And that we will have the courage to ask, again.    And again.    And again.
And I say this . . . .

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Service - Talk to Plano 8th Ward, Apr. 15, 2018

A year or so ago, I wanted to get more water to the plants on the south side of our house.   On a hot, sunny afternoon I dug a trench, nice and deep, connected it to the sprinkler system, installed a pipe and three sprinkler heads.  All I had left to do was fill the trench in. 
But I was exhausted. 
There was a time – many, many years ago – when I could do anything.    I was a marine.  I was a forest ranger.  I was even a Librarian.  It’s true!        I had thick, golden blond hair all over my head, and my waist was smaller than my shoulders.
But those days are past and gone.    After I installed the final sprinkler head, I was sitting on the edge of the trench with my feet down inside it, and I realized I would have to rest a while before I could stand up and get out.  I decided filling in the trench could wait until another day  -   Maybe a month   -   or two.
Most of you know that Liz and I are planning to move to a townhouse a little ways up Custer Road, in McKinney.   We love our current house.  We love Plano stake, and especially the Plano 8th ward.  We love worshipping here with you.    But incidents like filling in the trench have convinced us that we need to downsize.   After much searching, we found a place that suits us quite nicely, and there are no sprinklers to maintain  -  no trenches to dig.    It gives us much sadness to do it, but it is time for a change for us.
Back to the trench.  I was sitting on the grass with my feet in the trench when Mark Morrell came strolling around the side of the house.  He was out for a walk and happened to stop by to see us.
Back in the olden days, we called him our home teacher.    The olden days  -  you know – more than 2 weeks ago  -  before President Nelson changed our World.  Mark and I chatted for a while and the result was that Mark Morrell filled in my trench for me.  He said it was no big deal.  But I saw it differently.   He filled a need that I had, and was happy to do it.  Mark hadn’t come by to make a checkmark on the home teaching report.  He came ready to minister to us.  He saw an opportunity for service and he grabbed it.  
Matthew 20: 25-28
25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

We use some particular words in the church in ways that most people don’t quite get.  We have our own usage of those words.  Fast meeting.  Word of Wisdom.  Garments.  Recommend.  Endowment.  These are just a few.     I’ve been thinking about  SERVICE  because that is what my assigned topic is today.  As I thought about Service, I couldn’t help thinking about our newest buzz word, Ministering.   And about whether,  and how,   ministering is different from Home Teaching.
Is ministering merely home and visiting teaching with a new name?  No, I don’t think so for one second.  So, how is it different?   Isn’t it true that we will still have assigned families and a charge to see those families?  Which charge is not much different than our charge as home and visiting teachers  back in the olden days?     Yes!  The charge is not MUCH different.   But the emphasis is  WAY  different.  I think our eyes are just beginning to open to this new emphasis, but Brother Morell’s service to me was a forshadowing of what is to come.
All my adult life I’ve sat through Priesthood meeting opening exercises and heard the following announcement:  “Brothers, we are at the    [fill in the blank: beginning, middle, end]  of the month.  Be sure to get your home teaching done before the end of the month.”
If you heard this one time, you would naturally assume that the key thing about “home teaching” was the month.  Did you get it done this month?  Yes.  CHECK!
I don’t expect we’ll be hearing that any more.  The expectation is no longer a check for the month.  The expectation is that we will be ministering the way the Savior taught his apostles to minister.  Now we will begin to associate a lot more things with the simple word, Minister.
Our ward has been very good at providing service to our fellows.  Service and ministering are very closely related.  So closely related that you could substitute one word for the other and not stray too far off the mark, in most cases.  You could say that our new charge is to give an extra helping of service to our assigned families.     But it is hard to know when to offer service and  hard to know what service can be rendered.  There has to be some preparation before we will be ready to make it work.
To become ministers and provide service as it is needed, we need to be listening to the spirit.  That is how we will know what service to render.   I don’t think it was coincidence that Bro. Morrell came by my house just when I needed a hand with that trench.   I think he was prompted by the spirit to stop by.
We all need to have the spirit with us to effectively execute our ministering assignments.   And how do we do that?   Simple, by doing all the things we are supposed to do to be perfect in the gospel.    Only that one small thing, right?  Only we all know none of us are perfect in that way.  Nobody expects us to be.  But we are asked to try to be.   We need to be doing our best to do all the things we are taught to do.  Prayer, fasting, tithing, temple work, scripture study, Family Home Evening, etc., etc., etc.  It is overwhelming to think about all of it.  So, we just work on it a little at a time.  And as we do, we keep adding the next thing, and the next.  And the spirit will help us as we work on them.  And as we work on even the very first thing, he will tell us what we can do to provide service to those around us.
What did the Savior say?
Matthew 25
35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

So, for our ministering assignment, we will be assigned to love  (that is brotherly love)   a family or two or three, or perhaps some particular individuals.  Can we love someone that way  -   simply because we are assigned to?  Yes, but it’s easier to think of it like the Savior said,  “love thy neighbour as thyself”.   And then we need to start thinking that way about everybody.   All the time.   When we get ourselves focused so we can love everybody, then the assignment is simple.  We just pay a wee bit more attention to those to whom we are assigned.
If working in the garage or office and you suddenly think of your neighbor, that is likely a BING Moment.  The spirit is saying, “Pay attention to that person.”    So do.     Call, text, email, or stop by.  Make the contact and see what the spirit has for you to do.
Earlier I said that service is almost the same thing as ministering.  What I meant by that is service always counts as ministering, and a good portion of ministering is providing service.   But there is more ministering we can do that isn’t providing service, exactly.
I remember a time when I was feeling really low and discouraged.   A nice person said to me, “It’s going to get better.”   That’s all.    A simple thing, but it absolutely made my day.  When I heard that, it was like a load was lifted off my shoulders, and things WERE better!   Sometimes ministering is no more than sharing a smile or a friendly word.  It is incredible the difference you can make in someone’s life when you offer one of those simple, little things.  A smile, or a friendly word.
I used to work in an office with a lot of people you might describe as downtrodden.   I noticed that a lot of them walked around with their heads down, a frown on their face, kind of listless.  They acted like they expected to get kicked any second.
Bob Brigman worked there, too, and I noticed that when he walked down the hall many, many of those people brightened up when he came in sight.   He always had a bright smile and a happy word for them, and they responded in kind. 
President Monson used to speak of going out to “Brighten someone’s day”.     The New Era includes “Brighten someone’s day with a smile,” in a list of simple Service suggestions.   I think of it as lighting them up. 
3 Nephi 12
14 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the light of this people. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.
15 Behold, do men light a candle and put it under a bushel? Nay, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light to all that are in the house;
16 Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I decided Bob had set a great example I could follow.  I often walk around with a smile on my face anyway, so it wasn’t too hard.  When I’d see one of those people who looked ready to be kicked, I’d give them a really big, friendly smile and say hello.  Sometimes they had their head so far down they couldn’t see me, so I’d swerve into their path and when they looked up I’d give them a warm smile and say hello.  Sometimes  they’d act surprised,  and one time I got a hostile response, but usually it seemed to pick them up.  It picked me up too.
I noticed a thing about this, though.  I couldn’t light someone else up, unless I had the light in me.  If I was down, the light was too dim to shine.  So the first step was to pray and let the spirit shine in me.  Then I could light people up.
A word of CAUTION:  This is not a game to play.  It is serious work.  It is sharing the Light of Christ, or it is nothing.
After I’d been doing this for a while, a big dour guy at work that I’d never spoken to before,  stopped me in the hall and asked me if I was a pastor.  I hadn’t even tried to light him up but I had been smiling, as usual.  His question took me back a bit.  I told him that I’m not a pastor, but that I had been volunteering at the temple the night before, and I explained briefly what that was.  And he said, “Well you looked like you were glowing.”  And then he walked away.  I was surprised by that, but it made me feel my efforts were working.  My light HAD been shining.
Just a month or so ago, I had a similar experience with the guy at the cash register at the local drug store.  He said he had noticed me talking to people in the store and he thought I had a light about me.  I’m a bit embarrassed to share this, because it is NOT about me.   It is only  about letting the spirit of Christ shine through me, just as it does through so many of you.  I often see it in you when I come to our ward.
Our new program of ministering may sometimes be no more complicated than sharing a smile and a friendly word with one another,  Picking each other up, supporting each other.  Usually it will take more effort than that, but it will always be about  Being  brothers and sisters in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Conference a couple of weeks ago was an amazing experience.  In my opinion, the most amazing thing of all was how strongly I felt the spirit letting me know that President Nelson‘s bombshells were exactly the right things for the church to be doing and that they came from a Prophet of God.  In this morning’s inaugural meeting of the new High Priest’s  Quorum, President Martin said the same thing.    I think the changes we are making in our ministering efforts will bear  fruit in the most important ways imaginable.
I bear my testimony that President Nelson is a prophet of God, and that we will become more Christ-like as we strive to implement the emphasis on ministering to each other,      and to ALL those around us.
And I say this . . . . .
So, light ‘em up!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Repentance leads us close to Jesus Christ - 01-21-2018

Many years ago, in a ward in a far corner of the country,  I was first called as a counselor in a Bishopric.  I was shocked to receive the calling, but accepted it after committing myself to increase my efforts to be worthy of the calling.  I set aside my feelings of inadequacy and plunged into the work.  The bishop was a physician, a GP who made house calls as well as keeping regular office hours.  Among other things, I resolved to take upon myself as much of his load as I could manage.  All three of us were new to our callings, and we learned how to do them as we went.
Sadly, the time came when we had to form a Bishop’s court.  I was very uncomfortable with the notion of sitting on that court.   I had the notion that a church court was about punishing the slacker.
When that good, young bishop called us together to begin the process of the court, he started by reading a scripture to us.      It is in John,  Chapter 8.
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
The Bishop explained few things to us:
·         1st  The woman was guilty of a serious offense in the eyes of God.   There was no doubt.
·         2nd  Her accusers were not interested in the woman.  They were interested in accusing Jesus.  When Jesus asked that a sinless man throw the first stone, they all left.
·         3rd  The Bishop promised that the Savior’s final response to the woman would give us direction in how to approach the court.
10 When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?
11 She said, No man, Lord.        And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
Jesus was interested in individual people.  For this woman, his interest was that she should stop her sinful actions.  That she should repent.
We don’t know anything more about this woman.  The assumption is that she did repent and mend her ways.   (BTW, there is no evidence whatsoever that she was Mary Magdalene.)
But, my young bishop stressed,  Jesus did not condemn her.  And neither should we condemn the person we were about to meet in our court.  Our purpose as a court, was to help the sinner to repent.
We reviewed the facts of the case with her present.   Then she was invited to sit in the foyer while we deliberated. 
The bishop asked us for our thoughts and he asked us to make a recommendation on how to proceed, even though the final decision was his to make as the Judge in Israel.  The question was never about punishment.  We did not even think about getting even.  The only thing we considered was how to help her repent so she could get back on the path to happiness.
And now we are on the topic I am here to discuss.  That Repentance is the way we, as sinners, draw closer to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.    When we are in line with him, we are happy.  When we step out of line, we are not happy, although we may be content in our sins.
Brothers and Sisters:  the way to happiness is a strait line.      The word I’m using here, STRAIT, is spelled without a gh.  The Oxford Dictionary definition is:
Strait:  “a place) of limited spatial capacity; narrow or cramped.
EXAMPLE: ‘the road was so strait that a handful of men might have defended it’

  Now,  Consider 3 Nephi 27: 33
33 And it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he said unto his disciples: Enter ye in at the astrait gate; for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it;       but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein, until the night cometh, wherein no man can work.
Hence, people refer to keeping the commandments as being on “The strait and narrow”, and a person on that path is sometimes called a “Strait arrow.”
But, here is the thing:  none of us is capable of strictly keeping to the strait and narrow path.  We all fall off it from time to time.  Repentance is the process that allows us to get back on it.  Jesus’s atonement is the marvelous gift that allows us to return to the strait and narrow and he accepts the punishment, just as the woman taken in adultery was told to “go and sin no more” without any punishment.  The catch is that we must follow his path.  There is a process that we are all taught when we first learn about the gospel.  We have to approach the Savior in prayer, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, and commit to sin no more.  Sometimes we need to confess the sin to our Bishop.  We have to do the best we are able to make things right.
When we do that, we return to the strait and narrow path that leads to Eternal happiness.
I had a BYU religion professor who told us “If you can’t stay on the strait and narrow, at least cross it as often as possible.”  His thought was that if we are crossing the line frequently we are going the correct way.
To illustrate, I used to go fishing with two fellows who were sailors.  One was a career Navy man, and other was in the merchant marine, a Captain who drove oil tankers all over the World.  We used to go fishing out where the Pacific Ocean enters a STRAIT, another time when strait is spelled without a gh, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, in Washington State,.  The waters were very rough, because the huge Pacific waves crashed into the swift currents where the tides were flowing into and out of the Strait.  Waves frequently came from several directions at once.  We used to go fishing for halibut at a particular place – the top of an undersea mount.  The top of this mount was about 300’ down, but the waters all around it were much deeper than that, and there are no landmarks on the sea.  The halibut stayed on that mount.  To catch them we also had to stay on it.  So we steered by compass.  When we left the harbor we knew what direction to steer the boat on a course that would take us over the top of the undersea mount, but the waves would push the boat aside, off course.  So steering by the compass meant making constant course corrections.  We followed that line but the waves made it so we really just crossed it a lot, like an eel swimming through the water.  If we did it well, we eventually found the top of the mountain and caught our halibut.
The point of the gospel  is to help us follow the strait and narrow way that leads to happiness, the place where we can live eternally with our Savior.  If we follow any other path, we will end up some other place.  In my example, the compass was like repentance, helping us regain the correct course.
Last Tuesday, the new First Presidency of the Church held a press conference, shortly after the announcement of their new First Presidency.  I was in Salt Lake, looking after my grandkids while my daughter and her husband took their first vacation without children in 25 years of marriage.  It was very interesting watching our new First Presidency.  First, I did not know that President Nelson and President Oaks were such close friends.  Of course I knew they were acquainted and have worked closely together for many years, but this was something more than that.  They frequently leaned close to each other and shared looks of understanding.   Clearly, they are not just friends, they are very close friends.
Second, President Nelson put his stamp of leadership style on his response to the reporters asking questions.   Representative reporters were each allowed to ask one question.  Several of them asked their question, and in response President Nelson first told that he knew them or close relatives.    They got the personal treatment before he answered their question.  One of these asked him if the church is going to find a way to include LGBTs.
He responded that he knew his parents and grandparents and he came from a fine family.  He said he was delighted to have him there.  Then he got to what was clearly an uncomfortable question to answer. The reporter didn’t specify which parts of the LGBT community he thought were being left out of the church.  There are LGBT members who are following the strait and narrow path.   I’ve been thinking about that issue the past few days as I drove back from Utah with a car full of Christmas decorations and other stuff.  It seems to me that the reporter wasn’t using the language of the church, and he was asking that the church redefine the strait and narrow path to include the non-strait & narrow LGBT path.
I have a stick (hold up the dowel) representing the strait and narrow path to Eternal happiness with our Savior.  It is the path we are trying to follow in the church.  It is well defined.  We know what we have to do to follow it.  It is not easy for us to follow it, but we have repentance to help us get back on the path when we fall off.   “for strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.”  It is a difficult path, but one filled with joy and wonder.  We welcome all people to join us on it, even knowing many will not choose to do so.
I have another stick (hold up the thick branch with knots and forks) representing that part of the LGBT path that is not compatible with the strait & narrow path.  It might, for some, start near the first path, and it might even cross that path.  But it does not lead to Eternal happiness.  It leads to some other place.     “… but wide is the gate, and broad the way which leads to death, and many there be that travel therein.”
No wonder President Nelson could not give them the answer they wanted.  The question missed the point that we are concerned with individuals, not groups.  He responded to the question by saying, “God loves his children.  There is a place for everyone who wishes to be with us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.”   That’s it.  It isn’t about the label they wear – it is about the path they choose to follow.  There is no way to merge the strait and narrow path with the wide and broad path.  We welcome all comers, but it is true that to travel this path (dowel), you must leave other paths (branch).
I do not mean to pick on the LGBT groups or individuals.  There are many fine people in that group.  And there are many other paths I could have used as representative.  I picked that one because it was brought up during the press conference last Tuesday.  The point is that if we are on ANY OTHER path, we are not going to end with Eternal Happiness.  Only this path, the strait and narrow path, leads there.  Other paths may lead to popularity, power, riches, fame, ownership, comfort, or any of numberless places, but only this one leads to Eternal Life.  And in the end, it is the one that leads to all of those other things too.
Going back to President Russel M. Nelson.  I have long enjoyed his Conference messages.    In the October 2015 Conference, He spoke to the women of the church about becoming Women of God.  His talk was entitled, “A Plea to My Sisters”.  I listened to this talk as I drove up to Utah for a Family Reunion and I was impressed with his inspired message.  I had been trying for a few years to become a Man of God, as I thought of it, but really to just get myself even closer in line with the Savior’s teachings.  His message to the sisters resonated with my own search.
Then in April 2016, he spoke to the brothers in what has to be considered as a companion talk, entitled “The Price of Priesthood Power”.   This talk was specifically about how men can become Men of God.  Again, his thoughts resonated strongly with my own thoughts.  So, of course I have a strong testimony that he is the prophet for our time.  It makes me sad to think that his tenure may well be short.  He is already older than President Monson was at his death.  On the other hand, his mind is very sharp and his body is still capable of feats that amaze men much younger.
It is my privilege to sustain him as my Prophet,     Seer,     and Revelator.