Monday, August 25, 2008

Follow the Brethren

Follow the Brethren, Delivered 24 Aug 2008 in the Saugus 3rd Ward

Introductory Whining

It seems like every week a speaker gets up and talks about how they didn’t avoid [our 2nd Counselor in the Bishopric] well enough to avoid being asked to speak in sacrament meeting. As the Bishop’s Executive Secretary, I had a theory that I was exempt from speaking in sacrament meeting. Clearly my theory was a bad one.

To make matters worse, what nobody ever really says is that [he] butters you up before he asks you to speak. He suckered me by telling me what a great job I could do with this topic. It wasn’t until after I’d hung up with him that it occurred to me that he probably tells that to everybody, regardless of the topic.

So, thanks, Mick!

Introduction of Topic

Nevertheless, I did put a lot of thought into how to present this particular topic, the title of which is “Follow the Brethren”. Today, I intend to discuss some reasons why we should “Follow the Brethren”. Along the way, I will give some examples of when people had a choice to follow counsel, or not, and some of the results of doing so.

First, however, I wanted to set the stage by relating a scripture ...

Introductory Scripture: D&C 68:2-4

Doctrine and Covenants Section 68 is a revelation given through the Prophet Joseph Smith in November of 1831 at the request of several elders who wanted to know the will of the Lord for them.

In part, it reads:

2 And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth—
3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost.
4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.

Discussion of Introductory Scripture

In this scripture, we learn that it is by the Holy Ghost that the Lord reveals to His children His divine will for all things, both great and small. This is revelation. We often think of revelation as being related to the doctrines of the Gospel, but I believe that most revelation isn’t to outline doctrine, but rather to provide counsel directly to us in our daily lives. For example:

-- We counsel with each other and with priesthood leaders wishing for support and comfort, and often received divinely inspired direction,
-- We read the scriptures looking for understanding and inspiration, and
-- We pray to seek answers to our most personal problems.

In all these actions, it is the Holy Ghost that touches our hearts and our minds – or the hearts and minds of those around us – to reveal to us the will of the Lord.

Hierarchy of Revelation

As the patriarch in my home, it is my responsibility to seek for divine inspiration to better lead and care for my family. It is the responsibility of the Bishop to seek for divine guidance in leading this ward. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the Stake President to seek for guidance in leading the stake, and, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the prophet and president of the church to seek for divine direction to lead the church in these times and to make known to us the will of the Lord to us as a people.

The Lord can and does speak to each of us, today, according to our station in life, to guide us and those for whom we are responsible if we will humble ourselves enough to honestly seek His counsel.

Jonah 3:3-5, 10

Let us examine some examples to illustrate this point. Consider the story of Jonah; the “fishy” part of the story is of great interest, but I like the part that comes afterwards. Chapter 3 reads, in part:

3 So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.
4 And Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God [not Jonah!], and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
10 And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

Jonah had received direction to go to Nineveh and warn them of impending destruction. Once he had done so, the people actually heeded his words and repented. This is one of the few cases in the scriptures where extremely dire consequences are avoided by a people collectively repenting. The people of Nineveh heeded the words of the prophet, repented, and were spared.

Naaman: 2 Kings 5:13-14

Let us now consider the story of Naaman as recorded in 2 Kings 5. He was struck with leprosy and eventually contacted the prophet Elisha, who told him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. At first, Naaman was unwilling to follow Elisha’s counsel. He couldn’t understand how washing in the Jordan River could help -- it wasn’t the cleanest of rivers. His pride and stubbornness were getting in the way. Verses 13 and 14 read:

13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Naaman finally humbled himself enough to take the counsel of the prophet, even though it didn’t make sense, and was able to reap a great blessing by doing so.

President Henry B. Eyring: Safety in Counsel (1/2)

Let us consider a more modern example of prophetic counsel. In the June 2008 Ensign, there is an article by Henry B. Eyring entitled "Safety in Counsel". In that article, we read:

When tensions ran high in northern Missouri in the fall of 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith called for all the Latter-day Saints to gather to Far West for protection. Many were on isolated farms or in scattered settlements. He specifically counseled Jacob Haun, founder of a small settlement called Haun’s Mill.

A record of that time includes this: “Brother Joseph had sent word by Haun, who owned the mill, to inform the brethren who were living there to leave and come to Far West, but Mr. Haun did not deliver the message.”

Later, the Prophet Joseph recorded in his history: “Up to this day God had given me wisdom to save the people who took counsel. None had ever been killed who abode by my counsel.”

Then the Prophet recorded the sad truth that innocent lives could have been saved at Haun’s Mill had his counsel been received and followed.

President Gordon B. Hinckley

In November of 2000, our late Prophet and President of the Church, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley challenged the youth to set goals that have become known as the six “Bs”. In that same talk, he counseled the young women to avoid piercing their ears more than one time. It’s been related in conference talks of a story of one 17-year-old who, just prior to the prophet’s talk, had pierced her ears a second time. She came home from the fireside, took off the second set of earrings, and simply said to her parents, “If President Hinckley says we should only wear one set of earrings, that’s good enough for me.”

Wearing two pairs of earrings may or may not have had eternal consequences for this young woman, but her willingness to obey the prophet would. And if she was willing to obey him then, on something relatively simple, how much easier it would be to follow him when greater issues are at stake.

How similar is this to the counsel of Elisha to wash in the River Jordan – it doesn’t really make any sense, but blessings came of obedience.

President Brian Sheffield

Consider an even more recent and local example. A few years ago in stake conference, our own Stake President Sheffield urged us to avoid energy drinks. As our stake leader and in his role as the spiritual leader of our stake, it is his right – indeed, his mantle – to give us who live in the Santa Clarita Stake inspired direction to aid us in our lives.

His counsel stands, and I know of nobody who can claim to be worse off for abiding by his counsel. Has the prophet and his counselors come out with this direction? No, and for us, they need not – it is enough that our stake president gives us this direction, and we should follow it.

Elders Quorum

Last week in Elders Quorum we had a lesson entitled “Establishing the Cause of Zion”. We had a very interesting discussion on what exactly “Zion” is, and outlined how the term can mean different things at different times. Nevertheless, we did have a discussion about how if the prophet asked us all to sell our houses and move to Missouri to establish Zion, some among us might find it difficult to do so.

I feel differently. I personally think that if the prophet, on behalf of the Lord, asked us to do this great thing, most of us would do so with little hesitation. Instead, it seems so much harder to do the small and simple things that we are counseled to do, especially those things that take us out of our comfort zone.

President Henry B. Eyring: Safety in Counsel (2/2)

Returning to the talk by President Eyring:

Looking for the path to safety in the counsel of prophets makes sense to those with strong faith. When a prophet speaks, those with little faith may think that they hear only a wise man giving good advice. Then if his counsel seems comfortable and reasonable, squaring with what they want to do, they take it. If it does not, they either consider it faulty advice or they see their circumstances as justifying their being an exception to the counsel.

Those without faith may think ... that to take counsel from the servants of God is to surrender God-given rights of independence. But the argument is false because it misrepresents reality. When we reject the counsel that comes from God, we do not choose to be independent of outside influence ... In rejecting His counsel, we choose the influence of another power, whose purpose is to make us miserable and whose motive is hatred.

We have moral agency as a gift of God. Rather than the right to choose to be free of influence, it is the inalienable right to submit ourselves to whichever of those powers we choose.

Final Scripture: Returning to D&C 68:4-6

Let me return to the scripture I shared at the beginning of my talk from D&C 68:

4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
5 Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O ye my servants.
6 Wherefore, be of good cheer, and do not fear, for I the Lord am with you, and will stand by you;

What marvelous promises!

Final Words

Our Heavenly Father loves us. He loves us so much that he gave his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to atone for our sins, so that we may repent and return to live with Him again.

Not only did he do that, some 2000 years ago; but He loves us here, today, now, so much that he gives us men of God to lead us today, prophets and apostles – even stake presidents and good bishops.

By heeding the inspired counsel we receive from these good brethren, we do not subject ourselves to a yoke of burden, but instead free ourselves to receive Eternal Life.

This is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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