This post is not one of my more humorous attempts – it is one of my more serious attempts, so please stick with me.
Have you heard the poem about the blind men and the elephant? The basic gist of the story is that 6 blind men touch different parts of an elephant, and then try to explain what an elephant looks like, based on their isolated experience. (If you want to read the original poem, click here.)
I can’t help but think that General Conference is a bit like that for all of us. Each one of us takes away our own personal experience – but what could be life-altering for you, might not have even been noticed by me – and vice-versa. That is part of the beauty of being taught with the Spirit present. Our experience is our experience, and what we each stand in need of. What a gift!
As I quoted in a previous post, President Harold B. Lee described what is discussed in Conference saying, “These are the important matters the Lord sees fit to reveal to this people in this day.” (Link)
There were a few concepts that stood out last week from sheer emphasis and repetition. as “important matters.” One was counsel of how we work through our doubts and questions. Another was how we should stay strong in our faith and in the Church. These themes were repeated over and over.
And I think I know why.
As sad as it sounds, some members of the Church are losing their faith and their testimonies. I’m sure many of you have friends and/or family members who have chosen to let go of the Ol’ Ship Zion and wandered down different paths, or abandoned religion altogether.
It is tragic. Not only do many who apostatize abandon their faith, they leave a trail of wreckage behind – broken hearts, broken covenants, broken spouses, broken families. And the biggest tragedy of all is that many of these apostates are so fooled by the voices they have begun to follow, that they firmly believe they are nobly following the Savior – even as they attempt to destroy the testimonies of those around them.
And it can happen to the best of us. Members with strong testimonies, leaders and loved ones can succumb to false teachings of the adversary. Smart, strong saints are not immune. None of us are.
In speaking of these times, the Savior said, “For in those days there shall also arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (J.S. Matthew 1:22)
It is true. Some of the very elect are being deceived, and in their twisted sense of “enlightenment,” they are quick and convincing in their attempts to get others to join them. It is sneaky, it is devastating, it is horribly dishonest. They fulfill the words spoken by President Boyd K. Packer when he said, “They leave the Church, but they can’t leave it alone.” (link) Yet many of those apostates would defend their actions by protesting that they are following a “better path,” or “following Jesus,” when, in reality, they are blinded.
“…Satan seeketh to turn their hearts away from the truth, that they become blinded and understand not the things which are prepared for them.” (D&C 78:10)
In the Priesthood Session President Uchtdorf mentioned how this works: “Satan, our adversary, wants us to fail. He spreads lies as part of his effort to destroy our belief. He slyly suggests that the doubter, the skeptic, the cynic is sophisticated and intelligent, while those who have faith in God and His miracles are naive, blind, or brainwashed. Satan will advocate that it is cool to doubt spiritual gifts and the teachings of true prophets.” (Be Not Afraid, Only Believe)
Whether apostates who attempt to destroy faith do it out of misguided motives, or out of sport, they are real, they are out there, and they are dangerous.
(I told you this wasn’t going to be funny.)
As I listened to Conference, I heard one recurring theme that was repeated in talk after talk – at least eight references from different speakers. The theme? The importance of participating in the Sacrament in order to have the companionship of the Holy Ghost. At the end of this post I have listed eight passages from last weekend for further reading.
I will admit that I am hyper-sensitive sensitive to noticing these teachings. The importance of the sacrament is probably the most common religious theme I have written about over the history of my blog. (I have added links to six of those posts below.)
When I served as a Bishop, one of my “charges” I felt I was given from the Lord was to teach that proper understanding of, and participating in the sacrament is crucial to our happiness and salvation. It changes lives. I have seen it in others, and experienced it for myself.
So, why would I claim that the sacrament is a “vaccine against personal apostasy?”
Because it works. It gives us the ability to resist infection from spiritual diseases – from whatever the source. Having the companionship of the Holy Ghost requires cleanliness, and the only way to cleanliness is through the Atonement – which requires us to repent, and participate in the sacrament. When dealing with spiritual diseases and personal apostasy, the old adage is especially true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
How does this prevent personal apostasy? The reasoning is simple, and spiritually simple to comprehend.
Members of the Church who have the Holy Ghost with them. . .
• Sustain the Prophet and Apostles.
• Understand that living prophets trump dead prophets, and even canonized scripture.
• Do not live hidden, double lives and call it “righteous.”
• Do not seek to destroy the faith of others. They strive to build faith in others.
• Do not deny the authority of God and His Kingdom on the earth.
• Do not claim to know more than their leaders.
• Do not reinvent the ordinances – such as the sacrament (irony) to conform to their own imaginings.
• Do not claim to be privy to a “better” way of living the gospel than that which is taught within the Church.
• Do not let go of the iron rod, nor try to redefine it.
Perhaps the biggest, and most obvious: People who have the Holy Ghost with them are not fooled by alternate voices of the adversary.
Simply put, people who have the Holy Ghost in their lives do not leave the Church. Period. The very act of withdrawing from the Church is proof that the Spirit has already left that person, or soon will. Why? Because companionship of the Holy Ghost is a privilege given only to those who renew their covenants by partaking of the sacrament regularly, and correctly at church.
So here is our charge: We must be so accustomed to what the voice of the Spirit feels like that we will not be deceived by other voices – or be spiritually blinded by crafty words, false spirits, or the wisdom of men. We must teach our children what the Spirit feels like so they will notice when he has withdrawn, and desperately want it back. They also must have that same familiarity with the Spirit to distinguish it from the promptings that come form other sources. This ability to differentiate between the Holy Ghost and false spirits is that very thing that apostates who claim to have found “a better way” fail to possess.
We must have the spirit of discernment – which is a gift of the Spirit. (Link)
The sacrament is the vaccine that can protect us against personal apostasy.
Administered carefully, properly, and weekly, the sacrament has the power to invoke the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and invite the Holy Ghost to be a part of our lives. It is the only way to have His spirit to be with us.
Distancing ourselves from the Church, distances us from the ordinance of the sacrament. If we do not attend Church, and participate correctly in the sacrament, we can be assured that the spirits that are guiding our lives are NOT the Holy Ghost. Scary.
It is no accident that the sacrament prayers were repeatedly quoted during Conference. Neither is it a surprise that Elder Eyring gave a masterful talk last week entitled, “The Holy Ghost as Your Companion.” In it he said this:
“Just as the Holy Ghost strengthens us against evil, He also gives us the power to discern truth from falsehood. The truth that matters most is verified only by revelation from God. Our human reason and the use of our physical senses will not be enough. We live in a time when even the wisest will be hard-pressed to distinguish truth from clever deception.”
“Confirmation of truth comes to a son or daughter of God who has claimed the right to receive the Holy Ghost. Since falsehoods and lies may be presented to us at any time, we need a constant influence of the Spirit of Truth to spare us moments of doubt.”
There it is. If we have the Holy Ghost with us, we won’t be fooled, as so many seem to be these days. In a world of sophistry and cynicism, this promise of strength and discernment could very well be the difference between spiritual life and death.
I offer my personal witness that the way we access the Atonement of Christ, and achieve cleanliness is through sincere repentance and the sacrament. That is how we earn the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and the safety he provides. I know it, I’ve seen it, and I’ve lived it.
I warned you that this wasn’t going to be funny.
NOTE: If you intention is to leave a comment telling us how peachy things are outside of the Church, or how evil I am for this post, or how the prophets are all messed up, please don’t waste your time. It won’t get published. (My blog, my rules.)
A great talk by Elder Dallin Oaks: “Alternate Voices.”
Quotes regarding the Sacrament from the October, 2015 General Conference.
“The presentation of the ordinance of the sacrament is when we renew our covenants and reconfirm our love for the Savior and remember His sacrifice and His Atonement.” “We will all desire to attend each Sunday to partake of the sacrament when we feel the Spirit of the Lord.” Elder M. Russell Ballard.
“When we open ourselves to the Spirit, we learn God’s way and feel His will. During the sacrament, which I call the heart of the Sabbath, I have found that after I pray for forgiveness of sins, it is instructive for me to ask Heavenly Father, “Father, is there more?” When we are yielded and still, our minds can be directed to something more we may need to change—something that is limiting our capacity to receive spiritual guidance or even healing and help.” Neill F. Marriott
“A perfect time to ask, “What lack I yet?” is when we take the sacrament. The Apostle Paul taught that this is a time for each of us to examine ourselves. In this reverent atmosphere, as our thoughts are turned heavenward, the Lord can gently tell us what we need to work on next.” Elder Larry R. Lawrence
For example, when we partake of the sacrament, we show the Lord that we are going to remember Him always and keep His commandments. That is an expression of our sincere intent.” Elder Fransisco J. Viñas
“The cornerstone of God’s plan is the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. At least once a week, we should meditate as President Joseph F. Smith did on “the great and wonderful love made manifest by the Father and the Son in the coming of the Redeemer into the world.” Inviting others to come to church and to worthily partake of the sacrament will allow more of Heavenly Father’s children to reflect on the Atonement. And if we are not worthy, we can repent.” Elder Hugo Montoya
“The sacrament is also a time for Heavenly Father to teach us about the Atonement of His Beloved Son—our Savior, Jesus Christ—and for us to receive revelation about it. It is a time to “knock, and it shall be opened unto you,”30 to request and to receive this knowledge. It is time for us to reverently ask God for this knowledge. And if we do, I have no doubt that we will receive this knowledge, which will bless our lives beyond measure. I love the Sabbath, the sacrament, and what they mean.” Elder Claudio R.M. Costa
“To always have the Spirit with us is to have the guidance and direction of the Holy Ghost in our daily lives. We can, for instance, be warned by the Spirit to resist the temptation to do evil.
For that reason alone, it is easy to see why the Lord’s servants have tried to increase our desire to worship God in our sacrament meetings. If we partake of the sacrament in faith, the Holy Ghost will then be able to protect us and those we love from the temptations that come with increasing intensity and frequency.” President Henry B. Eyring
“During the sacrament, I watch as hands and arms extend to pass the bread and the water. As I extend my arm and partake, I covenant that I am willing to take His name upon me, always remember Him, and keep His commandments. And He promises “that we may always have his Spirit to be with us.” Carole M. Stephens
“Two essential weekly signposts that mark our journey back to our Father in Heaven are the perpetual covenant of the ordinance of the sacrament and our Sabbath day observance. President Russell M. Nelson taught us last general conference that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to us. Our devoted weekly observance of the Sabbath is our sign to the Lord that we love Him.”
“Each Sabbath day we witness that we are “willing to take upon [ourselves His name], and always remember him, and keep his commandments.” In return for our repentant heart and our commitment, the Lord renews the promised remission of sin and enables us to “always have his Spirit to be with [us].” The Holy Spirit’s influence improves, strengthens, teaches, and guides us.” Elder Randall K. Bennett
Previous MMM posts about the sacrament: