Sunday, September 22, 2013

Talk - Obedience to Law is Liberty

We were assigned to speak on Elder L. Tom Perry’s talk titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty” which was given in the 2013 April General Conference.

The basic theme of Elder Perry’s talk is that agency is a gift from God, but liberty and eternal happiness come from obedience to God’s laws.

Elder Perry shared a story about a little brown book that was given to LDS serviceman who entered the armed forces during World War II.  Elder Perry received his little brown book when he served in the Marines after he served a mission for the church. He considered this little brown book a personal gift from President Heber J. Grant and his counselors J. Reuben Clark Jr. and David O. McKay.

Since servicemen were out there on their own, the First Presidency wanted to give them something that would renew their hope and faith as well as comfort them and bring them peace no matter where they might be.  Within the book there was a section titled “Obedience to Law is Liberty.”  They compared military law, which is “for the good of all who are in the service,” and divine law.

In military law there are strict rules and consequences to make things function well and to help keep people safe.  If you break the rules in the military, there are definite consequences and you put people’s liberty and lives at risk.

The little brown book stated, “In the universe, too, where God is in command, there is law – universal, eternal… law – with certain blessings and immutable penalties.”

The final words of the note in the book focus on obedience to God’s law: “If you wish to return to your loved ones with head erect, … if you would be a man and live abundantly—then observe God’s law. In so doing you can add to those priceless freedoms which you are struggling to preserve, another on which the others may well depend, freedom from sin; for truly ‘obedience to law is liberty.”

The phrase “obedience to law is liberty” really rang true to Elder Perry.  It still rings true to us now.

Today we find ourselves in another war. Not a war with weapons and tanks and little brown books. “Rather it is a war of thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a war with sin, and more than ever we need to be reminded of the commandments.”

Elder Perry says that, “Secularism is becoming the norm, and many of its beliefs and practices are in direct conflict with those that were instituted by the Lord Himself for the benefit of His children.”

The dictionary defines Secularism as the tendency, politically or socially, to reject all forms of religious faith and worship.  Personally, I see evidence of these all around and it deeply saddens me.  Just turn on the TV or read the comments on internet articles and it is painfully obvious.

If you think about it, this world has always been at war. Elder Perry believed that when the First Presidency sent him that little brown book, they were more concerned about a greater war than World War II.  Elder Perry said he thought they hoped the “book would be a shield of faith against Satan and his armies in this greater war—the war against sin—and serve as a reminder to me to live the commandments of God” not just while serving during WWII.

With the revealed knowledge of our premortal history, we know there was a war in Heaven before we came to earth.  When Heavenly Father presented His plan to us in the premortal realm, Satan wanted to change it.  Satan said he would redeem all mankind. “Not one soul would be lost, and Satan was confident he could deliver on his proposal.”   But there was an unacceptable cost involved with Satan’s plan.  Man’s agency would need to be destroyed.

President Harold B. Lee said, “Next to life itself, free agency is God’s greatest gift to mankind.”  Since agency is our greatest gift besides life itself, it was a very big deal for Satan to disregard man’s agency. In fact, this was the main issue over which the War in Heaven was fought. The victory in the War in Heaven was a victory for man’s agency.

As we know, Satan’s plan was rejected and he was not happy.  He was not about to give up.  He had a backup plan.  His plan since the time of Adam and Eve—was to tempt men and women.  He wanted then and wants now to prove we are undeserving of the God-given gift of agency.

Why does Satan do what he does?  Perhaps the most powerful is the motive of revenge, but he also wants to make men and women miserable like he is miserable.  Satan is driven to succeed.  I wish he was lazy, but he’s not.

Satan does play a role in God’s eternal plan.  He creates “opposition in all things” and tests our agency. Each choice you and I make is a test of our agency—whether we choose to be obedient or disobedient to the commandments of God is actually a choice between “liberty and eternal life” and “captivity and death.”

This is clearly taught in 2 Nephi 2:27, where it says: “Wherefore, men are free according to the flesh; and all things are given them which are expedient unto man. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.”

When stated like that, who wouldn’t want to choose liberty and eternal life?  Who would intentionally choose captivity and death?  It sounds like an obvious choice but our agency is tested every day and it is not as easy as it sounds.

One problem in society is that people reject religion, reject spirituality and even reject the concept of things being right or wrong.

“God reveals to His prophets that there are moral absolutes. Sin will always be sin. Disobedience to the Lord’s commandments will always deprive us of His blessings.”  Sin is not relative and is not based on personal opinions or feelings.

Elder Perry states that, “The world changes constantly and dramatically, but God, His commandments, and promised blessings do not change.”

Men and women receive their agency as a gift from God, but their liberty and their eternal happiness come from obedience to His laws.

When I was a freshman at BYU, I was very excited about exercising my agency since I was on my own for the first time.  That first month of school, my grandma sent me a letter which included a scripture.  In the olden days, prior to email, Twitter, Facebook, and texting, people mailed letters.  Since I was living away from my family and friends, I looked forward to receiving snail mail and checked my mailbox every day.  I was thrilled to get a letter from my grandma and since she wasn’t active in the church, I was surprised that she included part of a scripture that Alma had written to his wild son Corianton.  It said, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10).  Being at college, even BYU, involves lots of temptations.  I pinned this letter up on my dorm wall and it was a reminder to me.  It rang true in my heart and help me navigate through some treacherous waters during my college years.

I had a roommate who made some not-so-good choices.  I saw how breaking commandments severely limited her freedom and happiness.  Just because someone says they don’t believe a sin is a sin, doesn’t change the truth.  You can’t do wrong and feel right no matter how you try to spin it.

The commandments are unchanging and keeping the commandments is essential to our happiness and freedom.  This is true for individuals, families and societies.  “Disobedience to the Lord’s commandments will always deprive us of His blessings. These things do not change.”

Because of our carnal nature, it is a challenge to overcome that.  One of the ways to overcome the natural man is to learn to completely relinquish our own will, our own plans to Heavenly Father.  One of my very favorite quotes is by Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we ‘give,’…are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swal­lowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give!”

We can be willful.  It is really easy for people to feel like they are just bending, not breaking the commandments at times.  What starts out as a “bad habit” eventually may lead to a more serious addiction which leads to loss of liberty and loss of blessings.  Some of these addictions can include the use of substances such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee, tea, and drugs (both prescription and illegal), and behavior such as gambling, codependency, viewing pornography, and disorder associated with eating.  These substances and behaviors diminish a person’s ability to feel the Spirit and can harm physical and mental health and social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.   On this path, before you realize it, your freedom is diminished and your happiness is disappearing.  In 2nd Nephi 26:22 it says, in regards to Satan, that “he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with is strong cords forever.” 

The Church has a great program to help with addictive behaviors.  It is called “The Addiction Recovery Program” and you can download the booklet for free.  They also have local support groups listed on the website.  This program can help all of us as it teaches about how to apply the Atonement in our lives.  We all have our “stuff” – hurts, hang ups and habits that we need to overcome.  We are all struggling.  We are all sinners and we are all repenting.  We are all children of God, coming unto Christ through His doctrine.  Not one of us is perfect.  I read a story about a woman who was upset over a family member looking at pornography. “Why can’t he just stop?” She asked. Yet when she was asked why she couldn’t just stop overeating, she had no answer.  All things can be overcome through the Atonement.

I stumbled across this program around 10 years ago way before it was used in the church generally.  I was struggling with a serious caffeine addiction.  I know, some of you may laugh at that.  But my addiction to caffeine was causing my body to be in control instead of my spirit.  I had make sure I had Diet Coke in the fridge on Saturday night so that I could survive Sunday since I couldn’t run out and buy a soda that day.  When I was a stake leader, I had to smuggle it to Girls’ Camp to avoid headaches.  I was feeling uncomfortable about my need for Diet Coke so I asked my bishop half-jokingly if it was a problem.  He said that if it was an addiction, I would feel it in my heart and know.  I knew I had a problem so I decided to work on it.  I worked through this program and was able to overcome my addiction.  More importantly, I was able to understand the Atonement and how the Lord uses His power to deliver us from sin and sorrow.   Diet Coke may seem like a minor or gray-area addiction, but anything that causes your spirit to lose control of your body limits your liberty.  This same program can help with all addictions – alcohol, drugs, pornography, anger, etc.  I continue to use this program to overcome weakness, addictions, and bad habits.  I am grateful for the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that there is a way to be free again through obedience.

We are all taught the commandments, and we all fall short and make mistakes or bad decisions.  The beautiful thing is that Heavenly Father knew we would struggle and provided a plan for us to grow and learn and repent when we make mistakes.  Through the Savior’s Atonement we can find the strength to keep the commandments and do His will.

In Mosiah 29:20 it reads, “He did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them out of bondage; and thus doth the Lord work with his power in all cases among the children of men, extending the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.”

What I like about that scripture is that it says that the Lord works with his power “in all cases” and that he’ll help us if we ask him to and if we trust him.   When you are struggling, don’t be afraid to trust the Lord and seek help.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught that mortality is a school where we learn from our experiences, both good and bad: “Life is a school, a place for us to learn and grow. We, like Adam and Eve, experience ‘growing pains’ through the sorrow and contamination of a lone and dreary world. These experiences may include sin, but they also include mistakes, disappointments, and the undeserved pain of adversity. The blessed news of the gospel is that the Atonement of Jesus Christ can purify all the uncleanness and sweeten all the bitterness we taste. By confronting the sad or happy consequences of our choices, we can learn through our own experience, as [Adam and Eve], to distinguish the bitter from the sweet.”

One of Satan’s favorite tricks is to make people feel helpless and worthless because they have made mistakes and struggle with weaknesses.  He wants people to keep their problems a secret and not get help.  No matter how hard people have fallen, there is always a way back and we can enjoy a “perfect brightness of hope” as we work with the Lord to regain our peace and freedom.  In Alma 5:5 is says, “They were in captivity, and again the Lord did deliver them out of bondage by the power of his word.”

An insightful story that shows Satan’s plan to make us feel worthless and hopeless is the “Remember the Duck” Story.  “There was a little boy named Johnny visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target.  Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck. Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck between the eyes and killed it. He was shocked and grieved. In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his brother watching! Butch had seen it all, but he said nothing.  After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Butch, let's wash the dishes." But Butch said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen." Then he whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes while Butch went off and played.  Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry Grandpa but I need Butch to paint the fence." Butch just smiled and said, "Well, that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." He whispered again, "Remember the duck?"  So Butch went fishing and Johnny painted the fence. Later --- Several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Butch's --- he finally couldn't stand it any longer. He came to his Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck. His Grandma knelt down, gave him a big hug and said, "Sweetheart, I know.  You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing. But because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Butch make a slave of you until you told me."

The adversary keeps reminding us of whatever we have done in our past.  He wants to keep us in bondage through our feelings of shame and regret.   God is standing at the window of our lives and He too sees all that we do.  He’s waiting for us to come to Him.  How often we allow ourselves to be enslaved out of fear or unwillingness to confess our sins. We obtain
serenity and peace of mind as we are willing to let go of our guilt and receive the healing grace of Christ’s Atonement.  We can feel liberty and happiness again.

In closing, I want to re-emphasize that obedience to law is true liberty.  Elder Perry said, just as that small brown “book encouraged LDS servicemen to stand morally firm in times of war, may we, in this latter-day war, be a beacon to all the earth and particularly to God’s children who are seeking the Lord’s blessings.”

It is my prayer that we all can strive to keep the commandments, make adjustments in our lives as we make mistakes, and enjoy the liberty and happiness that come from obedience.


Click HERE to read Elder L. Tom Perry's original talk called "Obedience to Law is Liberty."  Click HERE to download the Addiction Recovery Program booklet.

No comments: