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.