Relief Society: Lessons For Our Times
by President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Note: My entire lesson can be downloaded here at slideshare and it will probably make more sense with the pictures than just reading this blog entry.
Like many of the talks at the Spring General Conference, President Eyring’s talk, The True and Living Church, opens with the significance of sustaining President Monson as prophet, seer and revelator and President of the Church. And yet, having studied the talk for a few months now, prayed about it and developed today’s Teaching for Our Times lesson, I realize that there is deep significance in the fact that Eyring opens his talk in this manner…and even in the title of his talk, the True and Living Church.
Anyone know where it comes from? The First Doctrine & Covenant verse 30.
And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually-
For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received…
I found out that Section One of the Doctrine & Covenants is the Lord’s preface to the book. It was given in November, 1831 after 65 revelations had been delivered. Here, in verse 30, the Lord is effectively granting authority to Joseph Smith, “the power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of the darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth…
Are those to whom the commandments are given strong or weak? Is weakness forged from strength or the other way around – strength is forged from weakness? So the very foundation of the church is built upon weakness made strong through repentance and humility…and the blessing of knowledge from the Lord.
Repeat: The only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth. We need to be worthy both collectively and individually. The collective is important because it’s not enough for the individual or her family but the whole church needs to act together for the Lord to be satisfied with our efforts.
Repeat: For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance. Why do you think that is? Why is there such absolute language here?
President Eyring spends a great deal of time around the word ‘True’ that I will get to, but I would like to start with ‘Living’.
WHAT IS A LIVING ENTITY?
Homeostasis: Regulation of the internal environment to maintain a constant state.
Growth: Maintenance of a higher rate of synthesis than catabolism.
Response to stimuli: Interaction and response to its environment.
Reproduction: The ability to produce new organisms like itself.
In the talk, ‘living’ is through sustaining our leaders and via individual and collective development. I think there’s more in what is implied through that concept that I’d like to start with. So what is a living entity? Well, according to science, to be a living entity requires certain specific criteria, characteristics, and inherent abilities. There is some variability in definitions, but generally speaking the short list goes like this <read from list above>
Does the Church exhibit spiritually analogous characteristics that satisfy these physical definitions. I would say yes. The Church exhibits the characteristic of Homeostasis because this is God’s Church. The Church is orderly and, through Temple ordinances as just one example, is also eternal and constant. The Church also exhibits the characteristic of Growth because there is a knowledge of eternal progression. Ours is not a static Church, but rather it is dynamic and yet unchangeable in the sense that the Church has never changed from His perfect course. We need to look no further than lds.org to experience the evidence that the Church is able to respond to stimuli. And all saints know that our Church is able to reproduce through missionary work, when investigators join- they are spiritual offspring who can literally become part of the Church.
According to President Eyring, there are some important characteristics that define the True and Living Church. It’s kinda like when you’re reading a list of ingredients in a package — the ones that are listed first have made the largest contribution. They are the most important. In President Eyring’s talk, this would be the Keys to the Priesthood. This is a critically important point – ours is the only church to have the keys to the priesthood given directly to our prophet from John the Baptist, Peter, John, Moses, Elias and Elijah. The Apostles, after the Ascension of Christ, continue to exercise the keys He left. But eventually, the keys were lost and we entered into the Apostasy.
Restoration of the keys of the priesthood is what makes the Church true. So is the Power to Seal. The sealing power is intricately tied with the ordinances of the Temple. And when you are in the Temple, you are in the House of the Lord. As I prepare for my family’s sealing, I was given a handbook from Bishop Harris written by then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Boyd K Packer. In the handbook it states: No work is more of a protection to this Church than temple work and the family history research that supports it. No work is more spiritually refining. No work we do gives us more power. No work requires a higher standard of righteousness. The sealing represents the transcendent delegation of spiritual authority from God to man. The keeper of that sealing power is the Lord’s chief representative here upon the earth, the President of the Church.
That is the position of consummate trust and authority. Eyring’s final differentiation that ours is the True and Living Church is that the church is greater than Joseph Smith or anyone chosen to lead. This is how it lives on.
Keys to the Priesthood (show images of keys). Not like these, although the metaphor should not be lost. Because we think about keys unlocking doors to things familiar and valuable to us, like our home, our car, perhaps our workplace. Information is unlocked by keys. As is music.
When we don’t have keys, we are either locked out or we must rely on others to open the door. The savior taught that we need to be baptized by one having His authority. If one wants to receive the ordinances of salvation from someone who is authorized to do so, ours is the true church that can offer these blessings. Back in 1977, President Spencer W Kimball gave the opening devotional address at BYU called, Absolute Truth, which nicely complements President Eyring’s talk.
President Kimball talked about the difference between relative truth, for example, scientific theories that may change from year to year and absolute truth. Jesus Christ overcame death and established the resurrection. This is an absolute truth. President Kimball also connects the dots that Jesus Christ is the only person who could establish resurrection being both mortal (the son of Mary) and the divine (the Son of God).
Before his crucifixion, the Savior recognized the absolute necessity for an organization of persons duly empowered to carry on his work, teach his plan to the world, and persuade people to follow the eternal program. He therefore organized his Church among his faithful followers, with apostles, prophets, and other officials to give his people guidance. He sent those officials into all the world to teach his truths–but to teach them without using force, for the basic law of this world is free agency. Certainly men and women may use their free agency to do as they please, but they cannot ever evade the penalties that might come by reason of any error they make.
The Lord set up his program of organization fully, gave the governing principles and doctrines, and delegated his full authority to his officers to teach and perform ordinances. He ignored all the multitudinous religious organizations then extant and all their manmade doctrines and philosophies and set up his own divine plan. This is true. If all the proponents of the “-isms” on all the continents disbelieve it, it is still true–an absolute truth.
As I continued to research, study and pray on this important topic, I found more inspiration from the Nov 1987 Ensign article, “Keys to the Priesthood”. Elder Nelson references the keys to the priesthood as: precious, powerful, and invisible! Some can lock and unlock in heaven as well as on earth. He goes on to say, “…Preparation, priesthood service, and keys are all related, but different. Service of any type requires preparation. But proper authorization to give that service requires keys.” He then illustrates with an example from his own life, prior to his calling to the Twelve, he was a medical doctor and a surgeon. He had been certified by two specialty boards. That preparation takes many years, yet it carried no legal permission. “Keys were required,” he says. “They were held by authorities of the state government and the hospitals in which I desired to work. Once those holding proper authority exercised those keys by granting me a license and permission, then I could perform operations. In return, I was obligated to obey the law, to be loyal, and to understand and not abuse the power of a surgeon’s knife. The important steps of preparation, permission, and obligation likewise pertain to other occupations.” He then asks: “Why is the power to act in the name of God more important? Because it is of eternal significance. We should understand the source of our authority and something of the keys that control its power. They may benefit every man, woman, and child who now lives, who has lived, and who yet will live upon the earth.”
President Eyring points out that it is important to live worthily so that the keys will continue to be on the earth. How are the keys bestowed? He gives us 4 ways <read from slide>
1. We must examine our lives. President Eyring gives us specific direction: examine your life for the depth of your gratitude as a member of the church. He emphasizes the importance of being grateful for a true and living church. He specifically mentions being grateful for the ordinances of the gospel and for the blessings that the gospel brings to his family. He also promises that the gospel can help to improve your family situation as you embrace its principles.
2. Repent. Remember D&C 1:31:3 For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; And he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.
3. Pledge to keep the Lord’s commandments. President Eyring tells us that we need to know through the power of the holy ghost in what ways we can improve ourselves.
4. We truly sustain our leaders when we heed their counsel and keep the commandments of the church. Another way that we can sustain our leaders is by giving service to others. It is important to follow the words of the prophet, so that we can continue to receive his counsel. Simply put, we ALL must remain faithful and humble to properly build up the kingdom of God on the earth.
And yet, there is a paradox at play here because, as humans, we are attracted to strength and confidence yet, as I shared earlier, every one of us has our weaknesses. And there is great power in humility. The Lord has a purpose behind this as he shares in D&C 1:19, 25-8) And inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.
The Lord’s servants, like all of us, need to rely on and be sustained by Him. We are not sufficient unto ourselves, and we must be humble. The Lord gives us weakness specifically so we may become humble (Ether 12:27.) The Lord’s servants are no exception. The Lord said to Paul: “my strength is made perfect in weakness,” Paul added: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9.)
In addition to the keys to the priesthood, another critically important point is that our Church has the Power to Seal. Through the church and ordinances which are in it – the blessings of the sealings affect the spirit world as well as the earthly world….it is the sealing power and our knowledge of it which changes and transforms our family life here and our expectations for the joy of family life in the world to come.
Have you ever thought about how your actions here affect those beyond the veil?
Through service + faith. For example: finding the names of your ancestors and offering them vicarious ordinances is one way you sustain this great work. Offering salvation to ALL of Heavenly Father’s children who have lived in this world. From the beginning, our Heavenly Father has used priesthood ordinances and covenants to build relationships with His children in order to prepare them – us – to return to His presence.
And so, the church is being prepared for the Savior’s return. Evidence of the prophesied perfecting of the church. Steady improvement in members’ lives through simple faith and atonement. Have you ever had a prayer answered? Wait – let me ask a more specific question: have you ever prayed to be shown your weaknesses? For those who have not — are you afraid to do so?
One more thought on fear as a barrier to a deeper understanding of oneself and our relationship with the Savior. We learn in 2 Timothy 1:7 that when we experience fear, it is not of God. It reads: “For the Lord hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” In the story of Adam and Eve, even after they had disobeyed Father, they weren’t afraid to face Him. They knew they needed direction and guidance. It wasn’t until the serpent point out their nakedness that they were filled with fear and hid themselves from the Lord.
More perfecting of the church = change our way of thinking. One of the more popular business metaphors for changing for human behavior has to do with boiling a frog. Who is familiar with this approach? Let me quickly explain for those who are not. A frog is a cold-blooded creature. Meaning, if it jumps into a pot of boiling hot water, it jumps out. But if that same frog jumps into a pot of lukewarm or room temperature water, and the pot is put on the stove, the frog just sits in the water, not reacting to the change in temperature. But if you THUMP the pot, it shifts the temperature enough to catapult the frog out of the pot and onto the relative safety of a countertop.
People are not much different. Sometimes we’re the frog — we don’t see the situation around us changing, until it’s too late. It could be something like Hurricane Ike creeping up on Texas or the stock market imploding. On a more personal level, it might be a health issue around anxiety or depression – a ‘social disease’ that is more evident to others than the individual suffering from the symptoms. In my own example, after I had my second daughter, I thought I was a little moody, maybe ‘baby blues’ that would pass. It turned out to be post-partum depression requiring intensive clinical treatment. Had my husband and close friends who knew me best not ‘thumped my pot’, I know I would never have gone to the doctor. I was definitely the frog in the pot and I am forever grateful that my husband thumped it for me. You can thump the pot for someone through prayer and kindness, remind that person that you are there, you care and you can help.
I mentioned earlier that President Eyring also challenges us to measure the depth of our gratitude for a true and living church. Why? Without gratitude, you begin to take things for granted. When you are grateful for something, you will nurture it, care for it, give it an important place in your live and keep it safe. You will also sustain it’s growth and life. In his talk, President Eyring shares that his personal sense of gratitude comes from the blessings to his family. The sealing power and our knowledge of it changes and transforms life, including expectations for joy of family life in the world to come. Eternal families, in short.
He also tells us that we need to know by the power of the Holy Ghost in what ways we can do better in keeping the commandments. And he reminds us why – the scriptures promise that when the Lord comes again to His Church, he will find it spiritually prepared for Him. In other words, He has challenged us to do better and we will. We can and we are doing better every day.
There is evidence of the prophesied perfecting of the church through the steady improvements in members’ lives, often characterized by faith and obedience. One of these improvements is the desired capacity for helping out the poor and those in need.
The Perpetual Education Fund (PEF) as many of you know, was established to help young men and women get a good education and become self-reliant after serving a mission for the Church. The program is funded through contributions of Church members and friends. It is a revolving resource in which money is loaned to an individual to help pay for advanced education or training. President Eyring calls out that the Saints’ giving is independent of economic affluence – he is seeing the Perpetual Education Fund and the Humanitarian Fund being mentioned in obituary notices. I thought it was telling that in the first 5 years (it was established in 2001), it has funded 27,000 students in 39 countries. Perhaps most importantly to the point that this important initiative is changing members’ lives: the average monthly wage of students participating in the program has increased 320% from when they start (average $179/mo) to when they finish college (average $756/mo).
In addition to seeing the increased activity with the Perpetual Education Fund, I must admit, before teaching this lesson today, my grasp of the connection between Fast Sundays and the Church’s Humanitarian Fund was tenuous at best. I learned from lds.org that essentially, it helps people become self-reliant by teaching skills and providing resources for a self- sustained life.
Donations, principally from Church members but also from people around the world, are used to make relief projects possible. Also, one hundred percent of the donations given to the Church’s humanitarian services fund are used for relief efforts. There is no other humanitarian organization on the planet that can make this claim. The Church absorbs its own overhead costs. Between 1985 and 2006, the Church donated cash of more than $201 million and goods of more than $705 million in disaster relief to 163 countries.
More perfecting of the church… Every member a missionary was one of President David O MacKay’s well-known sayings. President Kimball had faith in our ability to continue the effort successfully: “Somehow,…I feel that when we have done all in our power that the Lord will find a way to open doors. That is my faith” (Ensign, Oct. 1974, 7).
Since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organized in a small log cabin in upstate New York in 1830, missionary work has characterized our Church. From its earliest days, fanning out to Native American lands, to Canada and, in 1837, beyond the North American continent to England for missionaries to lay the foundation for the Lord’s church. It took 117 years – until 1947 – for the Church to grow from the initial six members to one million. And yet the two-million-member mark was reached just 16 years later, in 1963, and the three-million mark in eight years more.
In the Spring 2008 General Conference, membership was approaching 13 million. Now, imagine if half of those members introduced someone into the church next year. How quickly we could get to 20 million. And if it was done again the following year? 30 million.
More perfecting of the church.
We sustain our leaders and the Lord’s Church as we give service as opportunities are extended to us through his servants. But what about callings? I’ve been studying a lot about the church’s organizational structure this past month because it is a wonderful model that more businesses should study. It helped me to understand how callings work once a position is identified.
Finally, I would like to bear my own testimony that this is the true and living church because we are continually led by a living, caring Heavenly Father through our Savior, Jesus Christ. He has the knowledge and authority to make adjustments, expansions, and give further revelation to us, either individually or to the Church as a whole. This is what makes it the Living Church, and I am extremely grateful for such reassurance, especially in turbulent times. It is a wonderful to not have to rely solely on one or two thousand-year-old texts written by long-dead prophets, in languages we no longer understand for cultures that have vanished.
We are so very blessed to have a living prophet in President Monson being directed by our Savior to provide steadfast direction for such an immense body of saints. And his two counselors, Presidents Eyring and Uchdorf who respectively have provided inspirational counsel to all saints through their General Conference talks this past April.
I am thrilled and humbled to be attending the General Conference next week where I look forward to hearing our leaders share their personal testimony that this is the true and living church. And bringing you, my sisters, more Lessons for Our Times as long as my calling lasts.
I leave this lesson with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.