Today I would like talk about who we are, what we can become, and how this relates to our journey through mortality. We need to own a deep understanding of these principles—an understanding that will help us through this life and qualify us for the highest blessings of eternal life.
I served a mission for the Lord in the Wisconsin Milwaukee Mission, and my first area was in the heart of Milwaukee. Living in a city like Milwaukee was a new experience for me. I spent a handful of years leading up to my mission living in the smaller town of Pleasant Grove, Utah. One of my first experiences with public transportation occurred within the first few weeks of my mission. I was with my trainer traveling on a city bus. We had done a lot of walking one day and decided to finish off the late afternoon riding the city bus. I remember I was tired and still a little overwhelmed with the whole mission experience. We did not have a lot of success contacting people that day, and I remember sitting down exhausted and spent on that cramped city bus.
Soon after we settled in, the person in front of us turned around and started talking to my companion and me. At first we were very hopeful and excited that someone actually wanted to talk to us. We let him know we were missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that we taught people about Jesus Christ.
It soon became apparent that this individual was not looking for sincere conversation; instead, he was looking to pick an argument. Also, instead of engaging my trainer, he started to engage me with conversation. After a few rounds of questioning, he asked me directly “How many books are in the Bible?” I felt this question was not that relevant to anything—plus I didn’t know the number—so I tried brushing him off, but without success. He became fixed on this question and started asking it in a louder voice. He could tell that I did not have the answer and was going in for the attack.
Other people on the bus started paying attention to the conversation and it started turning into a public display. He asked again, “How many books are in the Bible?” and added “How can you teach about Christ if you don’t even know the Bible?” I started singing the seminary song in my head—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers—and counting at the same time. I learned I can’t sing a song in my head and count at the same time because I kept losing count early in the Old Testament. I started to feel nervous because I was representing the Lord, and the attention on the bus was drawn towards me. I was concerned that I wasn’t being a good elder or a good servant and that people would walk away believing that Latter-day Saint missionaries didn’t know the Bible. I looked to my trainer for help but this man would not let my companion answer the question. He could sense the “greenie” target on me and was honing in on it. I vividly remember him pointing his finger at me saying, “I am talking to you, not him.” Also, my trainer gave me a look suggesting I could handle this.
I remember praying that this conversation would end and that the man would turn around. As I did so, I remember being prompted to bear my testimony of who the Bible testifies of: Jesus Christ. I explained that I did not know how many books are in the Bible; however, I know what is in the Bible. I testified of Jehovah in the Old Testament and of Jesus Christ in the New Testament and that they are one, our Savior. I remember feeling the Spirit and the power of the Lord as I bore my testimony. And something powerful happened: the man stopped. He let go of the issue and turned around without challenging my testimony. It was apparent he wasn’t interested in further sincere dialogue. I said a silent prayer the entire way home and expressed thanks to the powers above for help. And when I got back to my apartment, guess what I immediately did? I pulled out my scriptures and counted how many books were in the Bible. There are 66 just in case you find yourself in a similar situation. I remember thinking that if the only thing you know about the Bible is the number of books it has, you don’t deeply understand and are missing out on so many of its teachings.
Now, from a deep level, let’s explore who we are and what we can become. A person who I admire greatly and trust without reservation once told me that if people truly know who they are, they will never sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. He also told me that we must understand this concept deeply to not sell our birthright. He was referring to the story found in Genesis 25. Esau and Jacob were the twin boys of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandchildren of Abraham. Even though they were twins, Esau was born first and was technically the oldest meaning the birthright blessing was his. Esau was a hunter and one day he came home very hungry. He saw that Jacob had made some pottage so he asked Jacob if he could have some. Jacob agreed, but on a condition: Esau had to give him his birthright. Thus, Esau literally sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.
A mess of pottage has been used as an analogy for something of little importance. So if we truly know who we are, we won’t sell our birthright for something of little importance. I will share two teachings that illustrate who we are and what we can become. The first teaching is from The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”
I know that we are the spirit children of God; I know that I am a Son of God. I know we all have a divine nature and destiny. There is something sacred and special in all of us. Never forget that. The second teaching is from Romans 8. Please notice that this perspective shares an important qualifier with the associated blessings:
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God (there is the qualifier), they are the sons of God. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…”
Here is the associated blessing that I want to emphasize today:
“And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:14,16-18).
If we are led by the Spirit, we all have the potential to be heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. In the footnote to verse 17 that refers to heir, it shares with us further topics to study: birthright; election; eternal life; exaltation; man, potential to become like Heavenly Father. Birthright may mean different things, but when comparing who we really are to our birthright, I am referring to the perspective found in the footnote, the greatest gift that Heavenly Father can give us: eternal life. I also appreciate how Paul ties in the sufferings of mortality and compares those struggles to who we really are. I believe there is an important relationship between them.
I would now like to shift gears and talk about our journey through mortality and how that relates to our divine heritage. Mortality is an interesting place, full of fallen individuals—all of us. Also, a place full of challenges, or, as Paul wrote to the Romans, “sufferings of this present time” (Romans 8:18). I want all of you to think for a moment about what the sufferings of the present time may be. Some of these sufferings may seem unbeatable and unconquerable. We may see ourselves as small and insignificant in comparison to them. Some of these sufferings may be sin; they may be fulfilling duties and responsibilities that seem too big and too many. Some of these may be uncertainty about future events at home and around the world. They may be difficulties in relationships or challenges in study. Because we are fallen, we are imperfect. So to top off these sufferings, we have imperfect, fallen people trying to navigate through them.
Without knowing who we truly are, it would be easy to become overwhelmed with mortality. It would also become easy to forget the value of our birthright. That is why I love the scripture in Romans. It reminds us who we can be and how that knowledge goes hand-in-hand with principles of eternal life. It also reminds us to not get caught up in the challenges of mortality or “the sufferings of our present time.” It reminds us that those sufferings cannot be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us, or who we really are. It gives an eternal perspective. We will remember that when the price of something is our birthright, our eternal potential is not for sale because the value of the situation cannot be compared to who we really are.
Keep in mind, mortality is all part of the plan. The Lord is in charge. I believe this plan refers to the big plan—the Plan of Salvation—and also our individual plans along the way. I want to share an experience that shows the Lord is in charge on a personal level, and then I will then talk about the bigger plan we all chose in the pre-mortal life.
I have a brother who experienced kidney failure. For over a decade his kidneys kept failing and during this time, the family knew he would eventually need a kidney transplant. There are six boys in my family and he asked each of us if, when the time comes, we would consider donating a kidney. At the time the answer was easy because it seemed so far away. We all said yes. I am the youngest of the six boys and my brother is 10 years older than I am. In good fun, I would tell him if I was the eventual donor he could average the age of his internal organs and reduce his overall age by a few years. I actually think he may have started doing that.
About two years ago, the joking stopped because his kidneys were completely shutting down, and to survive he would either need to begin dialysis or receive a kidney transplant. He asked all of us brothers the same question: “Will you donate a kidney?” I can imagine how hard it must have been for him to ask that question knowing what a donor might go through. We all said yes and began the testing. I passed my initial screening with flying colors. I also passed the next phase. The next test was to determine if we were a match. The results came back and showed we were a very strong match; as strong as a match can be when the donor and recipient are not identical twins.
Now things were starting to get serious. I was being narrowed down as the donor. In fact, my other brothers paused their testing to wait and see what would happen with me. By this time I only had one test left: a psychological analysis to see if I could mentally handle being a donor and to evaluate my decision. They needed to make sure I was not being forced, coerced, or rewarded financially.
Throughout all of this I remember thinking how much I really wanted to be the donor. Deep down within myself I know why I wanted to donate, but to this day I can’t articulate why. They are feelings that are difficult for me to put into words. Just know it is something that I really wanted to do.
At the time my wife and I had five children. I remember someone asking me, “What is going to happen to your wife and kids if something happens to you or you have long-term medical issues as a result of donating kidney?” I had honestly never thought about that question, but it caused me to ponder the decision even more deeply. I remember feeling I needed to take this decision to the Lord.
On June 1, 2010, I took a vacation day from work and went to the Rexburg Idaho Temple. I was taking this issue to the Lord, seeking instruction to determine if I should donate my kidney to my brother. I remember after a wonderful session walking into the Celestial Room in the Rexburg Temple. I sat down and began praying and seeking direction. I glanced over at the table next to me and noticed a set of scriptures on it. A feeling came to open the Bible, but I thought to myself “I didn’t come here to read. I am seeking answers from the Lord.” Again the thought came, “Open the Bible.” Again, I told myself I didn’t come here to read but to seek direction. Finally, as if the Lord was to speaking to me, I remember thinking, “I know. Open the Bible.”
After going through this mental exercise, I realized the Lord was trying to tell me His advice through the scriptures. So I opened the Bible not knowing where to go and found myself in Proverbs 16. Verse 9 jumped out from the pages and into my soul: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
I testify that this message was sent directly from the Lord. Remember: donating my kidney was something I wanted to do. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to do it. However, the message to me was that even though my heart was behind this, the Lord was directing my steps and all of this was not a coincidence. I got the prompting that He had created my brother’s body, and He had created my body. He knew that one day I would need to give a kidney to my brother and created both of our bodies for the transplant to occur. In my opinion, that is why we were such a good match. I was created to be a good match; it was part of the Lord’s plan for me.
On July 13, 2010, a very successful transplant occurred. It was a life-changing experience. I received deep lessons about the Savior, the Atonement, and His sacrifice that I could not have received any other way. It was something I needed and in the end I was the recipient of great blessings.
Now let’s talk about the big plan—the Plan of Salvation. In Abraham 3 we read:
“Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones;
“And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever
“And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first” (Abraham 3:22, 26-27).
Within this scripture there is a reference to our pre-mortal existence where two plans were presented: 1) Heavenly Father’s plan and 2) Lucifer’s plan. One plan involved agency; the other plan did not. The plan that did not involve agency guaranteed that all of Heavenly Father’s children would return to Him. The plan that did involve agency required a Savior. This requirement is a key difference between the two plans. Heavenly Father knew we wouldn’t conquer mortality and be perfect here. He knew we would need a Savior, and the person who represented Heavenly Father’s plan was the Savior Himself, Jesus Christ.
Why does knowing about the plan bring hope? There are three reasons I would like to share. First, we chose the plan that included a messy mortality. We did not choose the efficient, mainstreamed, and guaranteed plan of salvation. We wanted—we chose—the experience we are having now. So when times get tough and challenging, we can have hope through the knowledge that we chose this mortality and by remembering the bigger picture of who we really are. We remember there is so much more to us and our existence than this mortal experience we are now traversing.
Second, and the main reason why the Plan of Salvation brings hope, is that we have a Savior, Jesus Christ. We can rely on His grace instead of our own. We can have faith in the knowledge that His Grace is big enough for all of our challenges here on earth. We can know of his absolute love for us—perfect and unconditional.
Third, we must remember that we are agents. In Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28, we learn that we should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do things of our own free will. We also learn that the power is in us to be agents and as long as we do good, we will not lose our reward.
And why won’t we lose our reward? Because we have a Savior to help us. In fact, agency is made possible through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Knowing who we truly are goes hand-in-hand with the plan we chose in the pre-mortal life and helps us live up to our birthright. There is great power when we know who we are and that we are children of God and also agents.
I want to offer a suggestion to help us through mortality. “Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there.” This is such good advice. I remember Sister Sue Clark talking about this during a devotional here at BYU-Idaho. It also relates to the plan the Lord has for us because being where you are supposed to be and doing what you are supposed to be doing is another phrase for following the Lord’s plan. There is safety in this. By doing this we will be able to enter into and keep eternal covenants. If we truly know who we are, these covenants are inseparable from the plan we chose.
The story of David in the Old Testament demonstrates this principle. David was a valiant servant of the Lord who had complete faith. He slew the giant and enraged the king with jealousy. Many times David proved himself as a dedicated servant of the Lord. I am sure most of us know that he ended up being king after Saul; the same king enraged by jealousy toward David. But then we read:
“And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel…But David tarried still at Jerusalem.
“And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon” (2 Samuel 11:1-2).
Most of us know the rest of the story. Bath-sheba conceived, and a great cover-up began to unfold. David continued to try to get Uriah (Bath-sheba’s husband) to go to his own home. However, Uriah refused instead wanting to fulfill his duties, wanting to be where he was suppose to be. Eventually, David ordered Uriah to the forefront of the hottest battle and Uriah ended up being killed in that battle.
How might this story be different if David was where he was supposed to be? If David had been with his armies and all Israel at the time when kings go forth to battle, instead of still tarrying at Jerusalem, he would never have strolled on his roof that night in Jerusalem. He would not have been in the position of temptation that was the first step of this tragic story.
There is safety and protection in being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there. This advice will help us avoid situations of temptation and allow the Lord to use us as tools to do His work. We will be where He needs us to be. We must choose for ourselves and exercise our agency to follow this advice. Make an effort and be an agent. Be where you are supposed to be and do what you are supposed to be doing.
The difficult part is when it is not apparent where we are supposed to be or what we are supposed to be doing. There are many times in our lives when we have a number of good things, duties, and responsibilities that all compete for our time. It may seem that we cannot do all that is required with the good in life that really matters. This may include family, church, school, work responsibilities, and many others. Important things that have a demand on us, things we need to get done. In fact, we may feel guilty because we can’t do it all. What do we do in this situation when we are motivated by doing what is right? Because we are children of God, He expects us to come to Him:
“And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
“But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul” (2 Nephi 32:8-9).
What a beautiful invitation for us to pray. That is the key: relying on the Lord. The Lord knows what we should be doing. In the end, all of us will stand accountable to Him as to whether or not we did what we should have done during this life. If we are unsure what we should focus our efforts on, He will tell us. He will let us know where we should be and what we should be doing when life gets crazy and hectic. Once we receive that personal revelation and act, we can leave the guilt behind. We can know we are doing what the Lord would have us do.
I have great faith in what it means to be a child of God. It is important for us to understand what that means from a deep level. We need that deep level of understanding so we won’t sell our birthright for a mess of pottage. Knowing who we are helps us understand our birthright. Understanding our divine heritage includes so much more than only knowing the Bible has 66 books. That perspective is a very surface-level understanding. There is so much more to know and understand about the Bible than simply the number of books it has. If that is all we know, we miss so much of what is in that volume of scripture. Likewise, there is so much more to all of us and so much we can miss within ourselves if we don’t know deep down what it means to be a son or daughter of God.
Once we understand who we are and our journey through mortality, we must see everyone else as who they truly are. We must see each other as children of God. We are all fallen individuals with a divine heritage making our way through a mortal existence that we chose. We are all dependent on the Savior and owe everything we have to Him. This makes us all candidates for the celestial kingdom. Because we know this, we have a responsibility to treat each other with love and kindness. The last thing we want is for people to unfairly judge us or impose unrealistic mortal expectations upon us. We shouldn’t do that to ourselves or to others. With love and respect, we must help others enter into and keep eternal covenants. We must help bring people closer to Jesus Christ. Instead of harshly judging ourselves and others, we must evaluate our actions and measure them to see if we are bringing ourselves and others closer or farther away from the Savior. By bringing people closer to the Savior, we will find that we too will become closer to Him.
When all is said and done, I can’t make you understand who you really are. That is an exercise you will have to go through in order for you to own that knowledge for yourself. I invite all of you to ponder who you really are and then go to the Lord. Ask in prayer to find out. Ask if you are His child. I know your prayers will be answered. I also know that Heavenly Father, in his loving and individual way, will tell you who you are and you will begin to feel the glory that is in you. You won’t feel lost in this mortal existence. In fact, you will feel deep joy.
I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to Jesus Christ. I know that He is my Savior. Because of Him, all is not lost. We can have hope, we can be cheerful, and we can have complete faith in the plan He presented, which is the same plan we chose. We can know that if we forget who we are, there is a process for us to remember. A process that, with open arms, He welcomes and invites us to enter: the process of repentance. A process that at one time or another we must all go through. A process that makes us clean; one that is essential for us to reach Heavenly Father’s standard of perfection. We cannot do it by ourselves. A Savior is needed.
I am also grateful for a loving Heavenly Father. I know that I am His son. I know that He is real and lives. I know that I have a divine heritage and destiny. I know that there is glory in me that cannot be compared to the challenges I face. That glory exists in all of us because we are His Children. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.