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Saturday, May 6, 2017

UNDERSTANDING AGENCY--Maybe not what you think, but more powerful than you realize

I remember standing in the doorway of my house as a teenager declaring, “I have my free agency. I can do what I want!” At the time, agency seemed like a wonderful entitlement that opened doors without consequences.

As a mother of teenagers, I didn’t have such a liberal view. When one of my own children would declare themselves to be free agents—usually just before doing something they knew was wrong—I wondered if perhaps Satan’s plan of forced obedience was actually a good idea.

Thanks to the Book of Mormon, and particularly the prophet Lehi, who carefully explained this principle to his own children, I have learned six important principles about agency over the past several years. Come to find out, it isn’t what I thought it was as a teenager or even as a mother of teenaged children.

Principle #1—Agency is not free.
In the scriptures we are taught we are “free to choose” (2 Nephi 2:27) and we are told we have “moral agency” (D&C 101:78) but nowhere does it speak of “free agency”.

As Lehi taught, “men . . . are free to choose liberty and eternal life through the great Mediator of all men . . .” (2 Nephi 2:27, emphasis added).  Or, in other words, through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can choose good.  We can choose to repent. We can choose to receive the Holy Ghost. We can choose to make covenants. We can choose to qualify for eternal life. But without Christ’s atonement NONE of these blessings would be available to us. Once we sinned, no matter how small the sin, we would be forever in Satan’s grasp with no opportunity for repentance and no possibility for progress.

Agency is not free. It was purchased at a very high price—the atoning blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

Principle #2—Agency requires opposition

Lehi’s statement, “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11) is one of the most often quoted scriptures in the Church. Usually it is used to explain the need for life’s trials and tribulations. In regard to the principle of agency, however, it means that in order for something to be good, there must also be something that is bad.

Let’s say the only available item for your breakfast each morning is one hard-boiled egg. If you consider a hard-boiled egg to be a bad breakfast, then by only having that item available, you do not have the agency to choose anything good. If you love hard-boiled eggs, then by only having that item available, you do not have the agency to choose anything bad. The only agency you have is to eat the egg or go hungry. But the choice to eat something good or something bad has been taken from you.

In the gospel sense, in order for agency to exist there must not only be right, but also wrong.  Where there is light, there must also be darkness; where there is freedom, there must also be captivity; where there is eternal life, there must also be eternal damnation.  If there is only light, you can’t really choose light, because you have not been given a choice.

Principle #3—Agency requires knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.
“And men are instructed sufficiently that they know good from evil”. (2 Nephi 2:5)

In the mission field, we frequently heard missionaries dismiss the failure of their investigators to attend church with, “We invited them, but they have their agency”.  Often we discovered the investigators did not truly have agency because the missionaries failed to instruct them sufficiently on the importance of going to church.

Agency requires you to know and understand that something is right or wrong. I can neither choose nor reject having an eternal family if I do not understand what an eternal family is and that having an eternal family requires me to be sealed to my spouse in the temple. And I can neither choose nor reject to receive the blessings associated with keeping the Sabbath Day holy if I do not know what keeping the Sabbath day entails and understand the blessings associated with keeping that law.

An increase in knowledge of right and wrong leads to an increase in agency. 

One of the great evils in the world today is the belief some parents have that they should not teach their children religious principles, but rather allow them to choose for themselves when they are adults.  Agency cannot exist without sufficient instruction and it is up to parents to sufficiently instruct.  

Principle #4—Agency requires choices to have consequences
“ . . . And if there be no righteousness, nor happiness, there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not, there is no God.” (2 Nephi 2:13)

This principle is very simple but critical and ties in with principle #3.  If there is no blessing associated with a good choice, then what makes it good? If there is no punishment associated with a bad choice, then what makes it bad? For agency to exist there must be blessings and punishments associated with each choice.

Principle #5—Agency requires that a person have the ability to act for oneself.
 (2 Nephi 2:16)

Once a man has knowledge of right and wrong and understands the consequences of his choices, then to have agency he must also have the physical, mental and emotional ability to make a choice. Without the power to act, he not only does not have agency, but he also is not accountable for his lack of action.

In an extreme example, if a woman is lying in bed critically ill and unable to move, she certainly does not have the power or ability to choose to read her scriptures daily. BUT she also does not have the ability to choose NOT to read them. Being physically unable to move has removed her ability to act. Therefore, she cannot be held accountable for her lack of action.

Principle #6—Agency is a requirement for exaltation.
Satan’s war in Heaven, which he continues here on earth today, was over agency. Why? Because agency is a requirement for redemption, progression, and in the end, exaltation.  Satan’s plan was always to take away our agency and enslave us, while God’s plan was always to increase our agency and exalt.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson said, “. . . God will not act to make us something we do not choose by our actions to become.” He can’t. It is against His law. He cannot increase our faith if we are not choosing to act in faith. He cannot increase our love for others, if we are not choosing to act in love.

And when we use our agency to make wrong choices, we lose agency.  However, when we use our knowledge and agency to make right choices our power to make right choices, our agency, increases. 

Just as with each unrepentant wrong choice we make, we lose agency, with each right choice we make, we gain it.  As we continue acting on our knowledge of right and wrong by choosing right, our power to do right expands. And this power, knowledge and agency will continue to increase until, through the atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, we become like our Heavenly Father who has all knowledge, and all power to act on that knowledge, and therefore complete agency.

And that is why the fight for agency is a war worth fighting.
May we always be valiant soldiers in the battle. 

Lori Smith Wagner

One Mormon Voice

If you want to read more on this subject I recommend this talk by Elder Christofferson, "Free Forever, To Act For Themselves" Ensign, November 2014

Saturday, March 25, 2017

My Personal Experiences With A Few of the Apostles

As I eagerly anticipate conference continuing this weekend, I thought I would share a few experiences I have personally had with some of the apostles.  All of my experiences have been pretty brief and pretty insignificant to anyone else, but they are all very cherished experiences for me and are part of the reason why I love our leaders so much and have such a strong testimony of their callings.  

Elder Henry B. Eyring. Many years ago I attended the wedding reception of my niece whose new husband just happened to be a neighbor to the Eyrings. The reception was held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building and Elder Eyring came. He knew my father and so he went over to visit with him. I was sitting nearby and kept hoping my dad would invite me over and introduce me to him, but he didn’t and so I finally worked up the courage to just go over, interrupt them and introduce myself.

This was at a very difficult time in my life. I was going through a personal crisis and had just lost a very dear friend to cancer.  When I approached Elder Eyring, he turned toward me and took my outstretched hand in both of his. He kept cupping my hand in both his hands for the few minutes he talked with me. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I appreciated that kind gesture. While he stood there, looking down at me (he is a very tall man) holding my hand in both of his, and visiting with me, I felt warmth, comfort, and love as if directly from our Heavenly Father, and I knew I was going to be okay. 

Elder Richard G. Scott. On another occasion I had the opportunity to visit with Elder Scott. My parents were being set apart as president and matron of the Guatemala City Temple, and Elder Scott had been invited to set apart my mother. She had a lot of concerns about leaving her family for three years to go off to Guatemala and had expressed those concerns a few times to her family, but did not share any of them with Elder Scott. However, when he gave her a blessing, he mentioned every single fear and concern my mother had. It was amazing to me to hear the prayer and know that Elder Scott had received inspiration through the Spirit to know EVERY THING my mother needed to hear.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks. We met Elder Oaks when he interviewed my husband and myself to be mission president and companion in Mexico. I had never met him before but he was president of BYU for part of the time I was there, so I was aware of his many accomplishments and I was completely intimidated by him! I really thought he would be a serious hardliner, but instead found him to be very friendly, down to earth, and completely delightful.

Before our interview I teased my husband that I was going to ask him how he met his wife Kristen. I had heard a story from my sister who heard it from her friend, who heard it from her cleaning lady, so I was pretty sure there was a lot of fiction in the story by the time it got to me. So I really, really, wanted to get the truth, but I knew it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask. (And my husband had threatened me.:-)

As we began visiting he asked me where I was from. I told him Orem, and that my father had been a BYU professor. He asked who my father was, and when I told him he said, “Oh, I know your father! In fact my wife is a cousin of his.” (I did know that—which was part of the reason I was so interested in their story.) He then asked, “Do you want to know how we met?” I about fell off my chair! Yes!! I did!! And the next ten minutes I listened carefully as he told us their story. I loved it. When we walked out the door after the interview I said to Wes, “God loves me!”

I had another opportunity to see Elder Oaks while we were serving in Mexico. He attended one of our Mission Presidents Seminars and did some of the training. While our Area President, Daniel Johnson, was speaking, Elder Johnson asked us a question that I raised my hand to answer. When I sat down from giving my answer I noticed Elder Oaks leaning forward in his chair in front of me and giving me a “thumbs up” sign. Yeah, that pretty much made my day/week/year!

Elder Christofferson Just a year into our mission, Elder Christofferson came to visit and address our missionaries. We combined with another mission and filled the building! I found him to be very nice, humble and friendly as well. I also loved his wife who was very kind and gracious. But my favorite moment of the entire conference came at the very end. Elder Christofferson had just completed his training when he turned to me and asked if there was anything I wanted to add. I was a little surprised. I know protocol has it that no one speaks after the presiding authority and I was positive I didn’t have anything to add to the remarks of an apostle! BUT I was completely impressed that he asked me. He cared enough about my feelings and my thoughts to ask me if I had anything to share. That really impressed me and certainly put him near the top of my hero list .

President Russell M. Nelson. President Nelson grew up a few doors down from my father and they were childhood friends. I had seen him a time or two before in my youth when he and my father served on the General Sunday School Board together and I had read his first autobiography that he sent as a gift to my father. But I had never really had any occasion to visit with him personally.

Just before our last Christmas in the mission, President Nelson came to visit Guadalajara and spoke to the two missions there. Meeting with General Authorities always made me just a little nervous and I was even more intimidated at the thought of meeting with President Nelson.  What completely surprised me though and caught me totally off guard, was when I shook his hand and looked into his eyes I felt complete and total Christlike love which drew me in and made me want to always stay there. At that moment I knew I was standing before a man of God in whom there was no guile. The love I felt coming from his eyes was pure and all encompassing. And I felt that if I were to meet the Savior personally, it would probably feel a lot like it did standing next to President Nelson.

Feeling our Savior’s love, feeling appreciated and valued as a woman, knowing our leaders are inspired and guided by the Spirit are just a few of the reasons why I know these men are men of God and prophets, seers and revelators today. I know their messages and teachings are true and specifically for us to help us through the challenges of our lives today. How grateful I am for them, and for the great blessing we have of General Conference. 

Bring it on!
Lori Smith Wagner

One Mormon Voice

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Faith to Move a Mountain

While studying my scriptures one morning I came across the verse in Matthew 27:20 where the Savior teaches that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.

I pondered that verse for several days. I am certainly no prophet, and my faith may be much smaller than most, but I was pretty sure I at least had faith the size of a mustard seed! After all mustard seeds are tiny!! You can barely see them! Certainly my faith is at least that big!!

So I thought I would give it a try. There is a mountain by my house I wouldn’t mind having moved. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit it really isn’t a mountain. Not by the Rocky Mountain standards, anyway. It is just a small hill. And a hill, I thought, would be a good place to start.

But the hill didn’t move. Not at all. I realize I didn’t really have a purpose to move the hill, other than my desire to say to someone, “Guess what I did today? I moved a mountain! Yep! That is what happens when your faith is as big as a mustard seed! You move mountains! Whether they want to be moved or not. . . .”

But I failed.

And so I continued to ponder the verse.

Then one day I had an experience that gave me some added insight.
Our son-in-law was applying to several graduate schools. The school that had the program he liked the most, didn’t have all the classes necessary to meet his particular needs and so it didn’t appear he would be able to attend there.

One morning my daughter called to tell me they had received an email from the school saying the dean of the college had agreed to adapt the program to his needs and if he were interested, they would love to have him come and be the first student in his specific area of study.

Later that day, in gratitude, I knelt in prayer to thank Heavenly Father for this blessing. While expressing appreciation that the program was being adapted to our son in law’s needs, a very clear voice came into my head saying, “A mountain was just moved.”

And then I understood the lesson the Savior was teaching much better.

We know Enoch literally moved mountains (Moses 7:13) but there was a necessity for him to do so. Most of us, at least at this time in our lives, don’t need to move the Wasatch Front, the Andes or the Alps to a different location. But most of us do encounter obstacles on our paths.

And when the Spirit has confirmed we are on the right path, and an obstacle arises to block our way, we can pray in faith to have the obstacle, the mountain, moved. And then, just as Moses told the people of Israel, as he stood on the shore of the Red Sea,
Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:13)

Lori Wagner,
One Mormon Voice

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Purpose of Life--And it ISN'T just about being tested!!

As a young girl I was taught our purpose in life was to get a body and be tested to see if we would always be obedient.  I have to admit, thinking I existed solely to take a test wasn’t very motivating. It left me to wonder, isn’t there more to life than getting a body and taking a test? After all, what is the purpose of having a body? And why is obedience so important?

The simple answer lies in the teachings of the Book of Mormon prophet Lehi to his children, found in 2 Nephi 2:25. “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.” There is the answer!

The purpose of life is to find joy and happiness.
And joy and happiness is found in becoming like our Heavenly Parents

Our Heavenly Father is a perfected glorified being who is literally the father of our spirits. His purpose, His work and His glory is to help us become like Him, whereby we can receive the fullness of His joy. That is why the plan that allows for us to learn and do what we need to do here, to qualify to return to God’s presence, is often called “The Plan of Happiness”.

Joseph Smith taught, “Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be in the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it. . .”

And while visiting His disciples in the Americas, the Savior promised them, “ . . .
and ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one” 3 Nephi 28:10

Our Heavenly Father and Savior experience a fullness of joy because they are glorified perfected beings. Likewise we will not experience this fullness until we too have reached perfection. However, perfection is a process, not an event,  and as we move forward, progressing on the covenant path, which is the path to exaltation, we can experience joy and happiness now.

Here are three main ways we can experience joy in this life as we prepare for a fullness of joy in the hereafter:

Joy is found in obedience
There are two forces at work in the universe. Good and evil. Whereas God’s purpose is to help us be good and choose freedom and happiness, Satan’s purpose is to trick us into choosing evil, captivity and misery. The more we become like God, the happier we are. The more we become like Satan, the more miserable.

The reason we are “being tested” to see if we will choose obedience, is not so we can learn obedience simply for obedience sake, it is so we can learn Godhood and be happy.

Moroni taught, “Come unto Christ and be perfected in him”  . . . And the Savior taught us that we “come unto Him” by following the covenant path of faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism for the remission of sins, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring in righteousness until the end of our lives.  This is the path that leads us back to our Heavenly home. Choosing to follow this path is “the test” of our obedience.

But it is not just a path we follow so we can receive a reward at the end. It is also the way we become like our Heavenly Father. With every commandment we keep we are developing a Christlike attribute, and with every Christlike attribute we develop, we are becoming more like God. And the more we become like God, the more joy and happiness we will have in this life and in the life to come.  

Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon is a good example of both the power of Satan’s misery and the greater power of God’s happiness. Alma not only rebelled against God personally, but he spent his time persuading others to also participate in his wickedness. In answer to the prayers of his father and the people, an angel appeared to him and called him to repentance. In his own words he taught:

“I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins. Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities for which I was tormented with the pains of hell . .  . .”

For three days and three nights he suffered this anguish. But then he remembered what his father had taught him about Christ and His atonement and he cried out to Christ for deliverance. He then continues, “And oh, what joy and what marvelous light I did behold, yea my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain.” (Alma 36:12-20)  When Alma later taught his son Corianton, “wickedness never was happiness” he knew of what he was teaching.

Joy is found in the family
God is literally our Heavenly Father, or in other words, the Father of our spirits. We are part of His eternal family. His entire work and glory, and therefore His joy and happiness, comes in helping us become like Him and receiving the joy and happiness He has.

Therefore, in order for us to receive a fullness of joy, His purpose must become our purpose. His work must become our work. And His purpose and work is all about the family.

That is why the family is central to God’s plan for the happiness of His children. That is why we needed to come to earth to have bodies—so we could then have children. That is why being sealed for time and eternity is the crowning ordinance of the gospel. That is why when we speak of being exalted (God’s greatest blessing offered to His children) we are speaking of having an eternal family.

But we don’t have to wait until the next life to have joy in family life. That joy and happiness can and should be found in family relationships right now, here on earth.

I realize that sometimes when we are surrounded by messy diapers and dirty dishes, crying babies and sick toddlers that happiness in family life may seem like a fairytale. I have not found marriage easy, nor raising children to be all roses and butterflies. But I have experienced a lot of joy in my family.

I rejoiced when I over heard a son in law teaching his two year old daughter how to pray. My heart smiled when I was visiting my son’s home, and in the middle of the night heard him lovingly say to his little boy, who had been throwing up, “You have to get it into the bucket, Buddy.” I find great happiness in watching my children gather their little ones around at night to read the scriptures, or see them all kneel to say prayers. I still get stomach flutters when my husband winks at me across a room. And I think growing old together is wonderfully romantic.

We recently were separated from our children for three years while we served a mission in Mexico. When we were released, we drove straight to Utah where we met all of our children and their families for a family reunion. It was at the moment they arrived and all 19 of us gathered together in the family room that I truly understood the meaning of the phrase “joy and rejoicing in your posterity.” It was the most beautiful sight!! And it was my greatest joy!

No wonder Satan fights so hard to destroy the family!

Joy is found in loving service
The Savior taught that the first and greatest commandment is to love God. The second commandment is to love others.

Love is the motivating force behind all that God does. Love is why He created this world so we could come here, receive our bodies and progress toward perfection. Love is why He sent His Son to earth to live, suffer and die for us. Love is why the Savior was willing to sacrifice His life so we could live again in the presence of our Heavenly Father. Love is why God hears and answers our prayers.

Jesus taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Therefore, love becomes our motivating force in keeping God’s commandments, because we want to live with our Heavenly Father again!

And when we truly love our Heavenly Father, we also truly love all of His children, our spiritual brothers and sisters. One of the best ways to know if we are progressing toward our goal of becoming like our Heavenly Father is if we are increasing in love toward our fellowman.

Which is why Moroni taught in Moroni 7:48 that if we have charity, “ . . .when he [Christ] shall appear we shall be like him . . . “

One of my favorite examples of joy in service is found in the story of Ammon and the Anti-Nephi-Lehites.  The four sons of Mosiah were partners in iniquity with Alma the Younger, and repented when he did. The suffering they experienced as part of their repentance process, created in them a desire to share the gospel with the Lamanites—people they perceived to be the most wicked of all. Their love for their fellowman was their motivation to leave their own families, travel to another land, suffer numerous trials and deprivations to teach their enemies. And thousands repented and joined the Church.

Upon seeing the fruits of their labors, Ammon exclaimed, “. . .  my joy is full, yea my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God. . . .yea we will rejoice for our joy is full, yea, we will praise our God forever. . . “ (Alma 26:11-12)

Ammon didn’t just learn obedience. He learned love. And in so doing, he felt great joy.

The greatest service we can offer anyone is to share with them the gospel through either missionary work or temple work. But we have also been commanded to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, liberate the captive and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted. (Jacob 2:19) And it is in these acts of service, both great or small, that we learn to love others and feel deep and true joy.

Putting it all together . . .
Think for a minute about Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life. The goal in the dream was to get to the tree, but in order to do that, a person had to follow the path to the tree by clinging to the iron rod. The rod, we learn in 1 Nephi 11, represents the word of God, which we can receive through reading the scriptures, listening to the prophets or personal revelation through the Holy Ghost.

In other words, clinging to the rod, means being obedient to God’s commandments, and being obedient is how we progress on the covenant path—which is the only way to get to the tree.

And what does the tree represent? We also learn in 1 Nephi 11 it represents the love of God for us, His children. But why would God use a tree and fruit to represent His love for us?

Because a tree is also the symbol of the family. The highest, most pure love is the love of Heavenly Parents for each other, and for their children. Love is not just a feeling our Heavenly Parents feel, it is what They do and who They are.

And, as the angel taught Nephi, that pure, perfect familial, Godlike love . . .

Is . . .  “the most joyous to the soul”. (1 Nephi 11:23)

And that is the purpose of life!

Happy Sabbath!!