Sunday, April 17, 2011

Eternal Families

My wife and I were asked to talk in sacrament meeting today. With the special help of Sister Beck, here's what I came up with:

I love to read the Book of Mormon. I testify that it is the word of God to our dispensation; I know that I have grown closer to God as I have pondered and applied its teachings.

One of the things I have noticed in the Book of Mormon is that it is a story of families. Most of us are familiar with the struggles, blessings, conflicts and miracles of Nephi’s family, for example. Though the specific details may be different, I have often been able to relate to members of that family. Sometimes I have been one of the siblings that were not getting along or the son causing concern for my parents. At other times I have been directed by the Spirit to help a family member or provided support to a brother or sister in need. Though a young parent, I am beginning to better understand Lehi’s concerned pleas and Sariah’s desperation-turned-to-joy when her sons return home safely from a long journey. The families of the Book of Mormon provide invaluable, real-life lessons. Because they faced challenges similar to our own, Book of Mormon families can also show us ahead of time how our decisions today may affect our family’s future.

Most of us are also familiar with the story of the stripling warriors. These 2,060 young men, “did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness… and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.” All 2,060 survived conflicts that could be called the World War II of their generation. Their unusual strength astonished the armies around them and even Helaman, their prophet and their general. The Lord was able to preserve these young men because the habits of their childhood homes had established sincere, unwavering faith in each of their hearts.

Tragically, less than 65 years later and in the aftermath of the miraculous signs of the birth of Christ, a converted Lamanite people “began to decrease as to their faith and righteousness, because of the wickedness of the rising generation.” Like the stripling warriors, these young men and women were raised in homes that knew of and believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but the rising generation of this time period were not as unwavering. The scriptures record that when these young adults “became for themselves”, they were “led away by some who were Zoramites, by their lyings and their flattering words, to join those Gadianton robbers.”

If we’re not careful, we might look at the stories of the stripling warriors and the rising generation of Gadianton robbers and conclude that it doesn’t matter what we do as parents or as siblings or as children. What’s the point of raising a child in a gospel home of they still may grow up to be robbers and terrorists? This is the type of subtle lie told by our adversary that is increasingly embraced by the world around us.

In truth, God has revealed that every member of a family that desires to be together forever plays a role in helping the family reach their celestial destination. As the mothers of the stripling warriors taught their sons, understanding the role and doctrine of the family can help us and our spouses and children become unwavering in our faith in Christ.

In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Church leaders we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators proclaimed that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of His children.” That plan is based on the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement.

The Creation of the earth provided a place where families could live. God created a man and a woman who were the two essential halves of a family. It was part of Heavenly Father’s plan that Adam and Eve be sealed and form an eternal family.

The Fall provided a way for the family to grow. Adam and Eve were family leaders who chose to have a mortal experience. The Fall made it possible for them to have sons and daughters.
The Atonement allows for the family to be sealed together eternally. It allows for families to have eternal growth and perfection. The plan of happiness, also called the plan of salvation, was a plan created for families. As stated in proclamation on the family, the main pillars of our theology are centered in the family.
That means that when we speak of living the gospel or of qualifying for the blessings of eternal life, we mean qualifying for the blessings of eternal families. This was Christ’s doctrine, and it was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 2:1–3:
“Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
“And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.
“If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming.”
This scripture is talking about temple blessings—ordinances and covenants without which “the whole earth [is] utterly wasted.”
Without the family, there is no plan; there is no reason for mortal life. Understanding the family’s central role in God’s plan for us, we can rightly ask ourselves whether we give our families that same status on our list of priorities. Perhaps the importance of family had something to do with why the stripling warriors were so willing to defend what later generations were recruited to destroy.

I have learned a lot about making family a priority from my in-laws. They do all they can—they use their vacation time at work and drive long distances at odd times of the morning-- to be present for every baby blessing, every baptism and every wedding of every sibling, every nephew, every niece and every grandchild. My wife’s aunts and uncles reciprocate this prioritization and effort. It was easy to see the fruits of their efforts this past Christmastime when all 63 members of their extended family gathered in a Salt Lake City hotel conference room. Not a soul of them were missing, some were there at great sacrifice. None of them would have had it any other way. Over three days I saw this family laugh together, cry together, dance together and pray together—and I laughed, cried, danced and prayed with them. Every member of that family knew they were included, they were loved, and they had something to live up to.

Knowing that the family is central in God’s plan for us, we must also understand that the command to “multiply, and replenish the earth” remains in force. Bearing children is a faith-based work. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “It is an act of extreme selfishness for a married couple to refuse to have children when they are able to do so.” Motherhood and fatherhood are eternal roles. Each carries the responsibility for either the male or the female half of the plan.

Elder Hales has taught: “The family is not an accident of mortality. It existed as an organizational unit in the heavens before the world was formed; historically, it started on earth with Adam and Eve, as recorded in Genesis. Adam and Eve were married and sealed for time and all eternity by the Lord, and as a result their family will exist eternally.”
As we are sealed to our families in the temple and keep those sacred covenants, our families may partake in the blessings of Abraham. Included in these blessings is the promise of numerous posterity, descendants who would receive the gospel and bear the priesthood, and descendants who will bring the gospel to all the world. In effect, if we are truly keeping our temple covenants, we will be doing the things that will help our children become stripling warriors instead of Gadiantons.

The prophets and apostles are constantly reminding us to keep the covenants we have made to God and our families. Listen to some of the counsel given just this last conference about our families:

Elder Bednar counseled, “Each of us should consider seriously and ponder prayerfully how we can reject the devil’s enticements and righteously “apply unto it,” even the spirit of revelation, in our personal lives and families.”

Elder Scott taught us beautifully: “If you are a young man of appropriate age and are not married, don’t waste time in idle pursuits. Get on with life and focus on getting married. Don’t just coast through this period of life. Young men, serve a worthy mission. Then make your highest priority finding a worthy, eternal companion… If you have found someone, you can form an extraordinarily wonderful courtship and marriage and be very, very happy eternally by staying within the bounds of worthiness the Lord has established.”

He encouraged the brethren to lead out in family activities such as scripture study and family home evening. He encouraged us to express our love and gratitude out loud and often, and to nurture our children in love.

President Monson asked us to: “Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful and if you are committed to making your marriage work…. if you are committed to the success of your marriage, there is nothing in this life which will bring you greater happiness.”

He encouraged us to be fiercely loyal and ever so kind to our spouses and our families, and reminded us successful marriages are generally more about being the right person than marrying the right person. He concluded his remarks on family with this plea:

“If any of you are having difficulty in your marriage, I urge you to do all that you can to make whatever repairs are necessary, that you might be as happy as you were when your marriage started out. We who are married in the house of the Lord do so for time and for all eternity, and then we must put forth the necessary effort to make it so. I realize that there are situations where marriages cannot be saved, but I feel strongly that for the most part they can be and should be. Do not let your marriage get to the point where it is in jeopardy.”

Our charge is to live in our homes, in our families, and in our marriages so that our spouses and our children will develop hope for eternal life from watching us. We must live and teach our families with so much clarity that what we teach will cut through all the noise of the world. We must be brilliant in the basics and intentional about our roles and responsibilities in the family. Great hope will come in a family that studies their scriptures together, has family home evening, makes mealtimes a priority and speaks respectfully of one another.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is true. It was restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. We are sons and daughters of heavenly parents, who sent us forth to have this earthly experience to prepare us for the blessing of eternal families. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can become perfect and equal to our responsibilities in our earthly families and have the promise of eternal families after death.

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