Episode 38: The Sifting
Revelatory Changes in Christ’s Church: One Perspective
Greetings ForeverLDS listeners! Another 14 days, another episode. Look for a new episode twice a month, every other Monday, like clockwork. I hate, hate, hate to commit to something long term like that because life has a way of throwing loopty-loops, but that’s the objective.
Let me start by saying, I LOVE General Conference. By the time it comes around every 6 months I’m already feeling spiritually crushed and battered. General Conference is like an adrenaline boost. An infusion of the Spirit just about the same time that I’m feeling totally inadequate, incapable, and overwhelmed that I’m ready to tear my hair out. I relish every talk. That is, every talk that I listen to.
In that regard I presume I have the same challenge as everyone else. I’m about as ADHD as a person can be. If I see a butterfly, I’ll miss several critical paragraphs of what a General Authority is saying. I do make an effort to go to www.LDS.org and re-watch talks that I might’ve missed when my focus drifted or I told myself, “I’ll just close my eyes for a minute. I can still hear what the Apostle is saying,” and then: ZONK. Next thing I know everyone is standing and singing. “What? When did—? What did I miss?” There’ve been occasions when I awoke to realize the choir is singing the closing hymn. “You mean I missed 3 talks? How did that happen! I needed those talks!”
So I go find them on LDS.org and I listen again. Yes, admittedly, there are some talks I just never seem to get back to. You know what? It’s okay. I stopped punishing myself for this a long time ago, because, if, by the end, I find that I was listening spellbound during one-third of the entire Conference—sometimes less!—those are the most enlightening, soul-enlarging 4 hours . . . 3 hours . . . any number of hours!—of the past six months of my life.
In fact, I’ll be straight with you. I missed the entire first session on Saturday. I was with my daughters and they wanted to visit Pet Smart. To them, because we live in Cache County, Utah, going to Pet Smart is sort of like visiting the zoo. Okay, we DO have a zoo in Logan. Very small. I don’t even know if it was open. But it was cold and it’s a lot of walking, and we’re lazy so…Not even the point. Here we are at Pet Smart and I say something about having to go to bed early so we can be up in time for Church and my youngest daughter says, “No, Dad, because it’s Conference.” There’s a dramatic pause. My daughter’s face—all of our faces go blanch white. Conference! We forgot!!
So we rush home. By then we’re about a half hour into the Saturday afternoon Session. The first thing that happens is Elder Garret W. Gong steps up to the podium and starts out, “Isn’t it wonderful to continue receiving revelation from heaven through our President Russell M. Nelson,” and I’m going, “What new revelation!” I think to myself, “Thank goodness for LDS.org! I can go back and—” But of course, I can’t do that now! An Apostle is speaking! Live! And there’s something about live! So I endure the suspense and torment and listen, attentively, to the rest of Saturday afternoon’s speakers before, at last, I go back to hear the first two talks of Saturday morning.
But, of course, I soon find out I can’t just listen to the FIRST talk. No, no! President Nelson gets up and basically says, “Big changes! Big changes folks! Big changes authorized and sanctioned by the Lord Himself,” and then he passes it on the next speaker. Finally Elder Cook takes the podium and announces the new revelation about the Sunday meeting schedule and, like every other Latter-day Saint in the world, my jaw drops to the floor.
I mean, not really. So many rumors were floating around for months that this change might be in the works. What was totally new to me, however, was the rationale behind it. The idea that, although meetings might be shorter, dedication and teaching of the Gospel would be intensified, and the center of such activities would shift to inside the walls of our homes. It will move away from chapels and focus on families. My kids, I mean, their generation frequently has an even shorter attention span than I do—which is astonishing in and of itself. Anyway, my kids were already off scrounging food or snatching up electronics after the Saturday afternoon session ended, so right in the middle of Elder Cook’s morning talk that I was hearing on LDS.org I had to call them over and explain to them what had just happened. Honestly, their first response wasn’t particularly positive.
“I’m not sure how I feel about that.”
I was still taking it all in myself and trying to encourage them to sit down and hear the rest of what Elder Cook had to say. The revelation was right. It felt right. When President Nelson testified, “All members of the First Presidency and Counsel of the Twelve Apostles are united in endorsing this message. We gratefully acknowledge the inspiration of the Lord that has influenced the development of the plans and procedures that Elder Cook will present,” I knew it was true.
I even suspected, before it was fully explained, that I had some grasp of the “why” behind it, but it took listening, and sometimes re-listening, to all of the messages throughout Conference before I felt reasonably sure that I “got it.” That’s not to say I’ve gotten all of it. But as Conference progressed into Saturday night and Sunday I felt I received a better grasp—not only of these changes, but of the revelatory announcements from the previous General Conference, in April 2018. The picture was becoming clearer. The “why” was falling into better focus.
Now, before I start waxing all introspective about this, let me remind listeners—Sorry I gotta do this, but if I don’t, it just feels wrong. I am not a General Authority. At best I’m a philosopher. A pundit. At worst, just some rambling ignoramus. I hope, as I try to apply my so-called gifts of communication, limited as they are, to elucidate and educate others with this podcast, it will be received by some as illuminating, entertaining, and approachable. Do not put me on some pedestal comparable to the giants who spoke at that Conference Center. I can’t hold a candle to them. If I possess any gift it’s that, possibly, I can help some to better grasp the bigger picture behind what’s taking place in Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You want better, more perfect perspectives?—Re-listen to those talks that are now available in video and text form on LDS.org. I’m as curious and eager as you are to watch how this new approach, and schedule, and curriculum are implemented in a practical way.
I know this. Right after it was announced, and before Elder Cook even mentioned this part of it, I was already wondering how this new “family centered” approach would apply to all those categories of Latter-day Saints who don’t necessarily fall under the ideal definition of a nuclear family: unmarried singles, one-parent, and part-member families, seniors, and all the rest. Moreover, I wondered how it was going to work in families that, quite often, perhaps the majority of the time, feel overwhelmed by inadequacies, dysfunctions, and flaws. I’ve never been part of a family that wasn’t beset by those challenges.
Yes, I believe those prototypical perfect families are out there. They’re like a Bigfoot sighting. That’s not true. Such families truly are not that rare. I’m convinced I know LDS families whose portraits belong on postcards, or smiling up at us from the cover of the Ensign or Liahona—picture-perfect families where everybody goes on missions, gets married in the Temple, remains active and worthy and strong—rock-solid. Salt of the earth. Shining examples for every other family.
Maybe there’s less of these than I think. Maybe most families have secret challenges that few ever see. Corrosive skeletons and secrets and sins. But no, I feel as though I am a witness of the reality of picture-perfect families. I’ve met them. I’ve envied them—utterly Christ-centered parents and children. If they face any tragedy or trauma it seems like it’s always physical. Cancer or some other terrible disease or debilitation or accident. Spiritually, on the whole, they are lightyears ahead. Don’t get me wrong. Physical trials are awful and excruciating. However, I’ve experienced families being torn apart, and I’ve been known to declare, “Give me cancer rather than this.” Some might think that’s a really ignorant, short-sighted, thing to say or think. Probably it is. Be careful what you wish for, right? I’ve also known individuals who’ve experienced every dysfunction imaginable AND IN ADDITION have found themselves the recipient of some terrible disease or debilitation. God, for some reason, is convinced they must experience the whole gambit.
My heart goes out to all of us who truly know the meaning of the word pain. I’m pretty sure this applies to the vast majority of the inhabitants of planet earth. It’s part of the game. It's part of the pathway to salvation and exaltation and becoming like our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ.
Here’s my observation. To understand the changes now underway under the direction of our modern prophet, and under the inspiration of Deity, one needs look no further than the topics presented in virtually every talk we heard in General Conference. Name one talk whose central theme did not discuss commitment, repentance, and ministering. Those were the three categories. I’ll give them to you again, put a different way. Number 1. Faith and obedience to God’s commandments. Number 2. Getting your life in order and Number 3. Shepherding and serving and helping others to do number 1 and number 2. Central focus of every talk.
You might say, “Well, aren’t those the same three categories they focus on in every General Conference talk?” Not really, no. I mean, sure, those three categories always represent ultimate objectives. But in virtually every General Conference you’ll find talks whose primary focus is more varied, such as the Word of Wisdom or Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon—and certainly those subjects were not ignored. Our prophet presented rousing challenges to fast from social media and make better media choices in general, to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year, and to dedicate more time and energy to the Temple. Those are specific topics, right? Thing is, he included them all in the same talk, so my point is reinforced. The primary focus of every talk was three-pronged. Commitment. Repentance. And Service.
By the way, President Nelson gave us those instructions during the General Women’s Session. If you missed it, because you’re a guy—a Priesthood holder—and felt you ought to have the night off—? I really don’t know the difference anymore. I needed the messages from the Women’s Session just as much as any other sessions. Sure, many statements celebrated and elevated women. I needed to hear that too! Personally, I don’t think I ever have Saturday night off during General Conference. Doesn’t matter to me what the session is called, I’m there. I’m tuned in. You don’t have to do it, or feel that way, because that’s how I feel or what I do. I just . . . needed to hear those talks! Sister Joy Jones, our Primary General President, and her talk about: “If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway—” I needed that talk! And so many other things that were said.
Okay, that’s what I mean by ADHD. I wander off topic. Every talk: Commitment, Repentance, Ministering.
How is it helpful to acknowledge that this was the Conference’s consistent theme? Because the world is changing. And it’s continuing to change. Two quotes from President Nelson’s opening remarks and closing remarks emphasize whole enchilada of what’s going on. From the opening, “The adversary is increasing his attacks upon faith, and upon us, and our families at an exponential rate. To survive spiritually we need counter strategies and proactive plans.” That’s what he described as the motive behind the changes that were then announced by Elder Cook. Then at the end, “My dear brothers and sisters the assaults of the adversary are increasing exponentially in intensity and in variety.”
We have the Church in our lives—its leaders and its programs—to help us win this war. As the tactics and strategies of the adversary change, the Lord’s Church must do the same.
Many words were spoken against social media. I know. Everything in moderation. Still, it was on social media that I found the readiest samplings of how Church members are responding to these announcements and changes. Many are concerned about the changes that were announced. Others are downright mourning. Many more as they replied to such comments are striving to console: “Wait and see. It will be all right. You got this.” From members who are unsure, it’s common to read statements like, “I support the prophet, but . . .”, which is kind of an oxymoron to begin with. But then they’ll describe their particular circumstances and worry about how these changes will complicate those circumstances. Heartbreaking stories. People who already feel lonely and isolated and fear that losing that extra hour on Sunday will only increase that isolation and loneliness. People who feel their children are already on the brink of apostacy and how reducing their time at Church, listening to their Young Men’s or Young Women’s instructors, might be the final straw.
Ah! And that’s the rub. Therein lies the insight to the problem that I believe our leaders are trying to combat in the battle against the adversary in these last days—the presumption that some have made that time spent inside the Church building, in prolonged meetings, can be considered the cure. Maybe at one time it was. Another time. Another era. Not anymore. It’s a new day. The adversary knows it. And our prophets, seers, and apostles know it.
The practical application of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter-days is being transformed, updated, and tailored to defend its members against the strategies being waged against them. I believe the way it’s being envisioned will soon be defined as yet another attribute that differentiates our Church from the rest of the world. At the very least, how it can be distinguished from other Christian denominations. And if it works, it’s likely that other denominations will follow suit. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Whatever our differences with other Christian denominations, we do, indeed, share a common enemy.
Think back six months to how President Nelson described the new approach to ministering as an alternative to home teaching. He called it a “higher law.” That same term has been applied to the idea of a family-centered curriculum and organization. Think about that for a second. A “higher law.” The period following the Atonement of Jesus Christ in the first century was also described as a time when the Lord’s Church was introducing, and becoming accountable to, a higher law—one that abandoned the old ways of Temple sacrifice and other outward rites. Many Jews couldn’t grasp it. They couldn’t make the adjustment, and therefore, could not acknowledge the reality of Christ’s Atonement, could not embrace the “good news” of the Gospel and the unfolding Church.
I don’t know how this moment compares to that moment, but based on some of the statements I’ve read online, there are similarities. Honestly, I find myself less concerned about those who seem to express anxiety or mourn over the loss of an hour as those who seem exultant about the fact that they now have an extra hour every Sunday! “Yay! I don’t have to sit in Church as long!” I realize that for many their feelings of relief are heartfelt. The adjustments offer much-needed convenience. Their celebratory expressions don’t reflect anything negative or indicative of less Gospel commitment. In some cases, however, it was hard not to infer that this was exactly what they were trying to communicate. As a reminder, Elder Cook did not say that shortening our meetings meant that we’d spend less time devoted to sacred study and service. What he expressly stated was that such study and service should be transferred from one setting to another.
It’s a higher law. Our prophet was asking for more intensive engagement and application of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not less intensive. If you missed that, please, study the messages again. For me, it was summed up brilliantly and explicitly in one statement from Elder Rasband in the Saturday morning session. He was actually quoting President Nelson from one of his talks at the April 2018 General Conference. On LDS.org this quote is emblazoned in the heading of Elder Nelson’s message. It reads, “In coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
Think about that. It doesn’t say, “Get your act together ‘cause, you know, things are only going to get harder from here.” No, it’s much more succinct. Much less casual. If there’s anything in your life that is preventing you from enjoying the full communion and influence of the Holy Ghost—You. Cannot. Spiritually. Survive. You will be spiritually destroyed.
We’ve certainly had our fair share of Sunday-only Latter-day Saints in the pews of our chapels during any given week: individuals who behave, or present themselves, a certain way at Church, and then go home and somehow, mysteriously, transform into somebody else. A part of me has certainly brooded over this kind of hypocrisy, but another part of me has thought, “The Church is for sinners. Not for perfect people. I’m certainly not a perfect person. Even for hypocrites, it’s better for them to be at Church than not at Church, right? If you’re not at Church, then nothing can sink in. Better to be at Church!”
What I suspect we’re now being taught, what I suspect is at least partially behind this new emphasis being implemented in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and what I may have misunderstood for some time, or at the very least underestimated, is how easy it has been for people to attend their meetings, claim the mantle of being fully “active” (and I put that in quotes) in the Church of Jesus Christ, and in reality receive only limited practical, spiritual benefit from that activity. Call it the new reality of the ADHD generation. That’s obviously an oversimplification, maybe even a mischaracterization of the problem.
The point is that a change needed to be put in place. A wholly fresh approach to and definition of what it means to be an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ needed to be examined. It’s a self-examination. No longer can we simply check off boxes and tell ourselves that we’re doing what the Lord would have us do. Who we are at home, who we are in every facet of our lives, needs to be given greater emphasis than just who we are, or who we appear to be, inside the walls of our chapels. We’re not home teachers. We’re ministers. That’s a higher law. Our Elder’s Quorum Presidents weren’t meant to be monthly cheerleaders or guilt-trip “provocateurs” filling out reports about who visited their assigned families and who didn’t. Those kinds of numbers just don’t carry as much meaning anymore. Thirty years ago, perhaps they did. Now, in the light of a higher law, the focus is on the literal salvation of souls. The salvation of your own soul. And of mine.
And for those who are experiencing sincere concern about these changes—true anxiety for themselves or loved ones—you were given at least one specific recipe. Did you hear it? It was glorious. Something you can put to the test immediately. It was described in the “four invitations” from President Nelson’s talk in the Women’s Session. If you didn’t make the connection, gotta go back. Watch or read the blessings associated with these four invitations. Especially associated with reading the Book of Mormon between now and the end of the year: “I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation.” That’s a promise from a prophet of God. Having concerns? Worried about your loved ones? Don’t tie God’s hands. Let the heavens open. Haven’t started yet? You’re only a week behind. Start today. Start now. I don’t think it matters when you start. The promise is that this scale of wholesale, massive consumption of the word of God will lead to miracles in our lives. Miracles we need. Miracles that I certainly need.
There were other instructions. Read, study and ponder. The only one men might feel exempt from is participating more fully in Relief Society. No, it’s too easy to just put in the word Priesthood, and it becomes equally applicable.
Brothers and sisters, nobody is being left behind. Singles, part-member families, empty-nesters. If people are being left behind, the program isn’t working. The emphasis is that without our neighbors and fellow human beings, we can’t be saved either. Groups will be organized. Support systems. Checks and balances. I don’t know how it’s all going to work yet. I have the same questions that you do. How will we establish such groups? How will we prevent them from becoming cliquish or dominated by a select few?
A good barometer of your own situation might be to ask yourself if you’ve yet gone to the trouble to glance over the new “Come Follow Me” curriculum. I admit, I haven’t looked at it yet. I think I’m sort of waiting for the Church to define it for me as I sit in a meeting. That, I strongly suspect, is not the higher law.
In coming days, the Prophet has declared, those who do not have the Holy Ghost, whose lives are not in harmony with the Spirit of revelation, cannot spiritually survive. Those who retain the perspective that being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is defined by attending meetings on Sunday, and not incorporating the family-centered part of the curriculum, will likely start to feel lost during the new 2-hour block. “What’s everybody talking about? What’s with all these references to things they studied at home or in their individual groups? I’m not following the discussion. The punchline doesn’t make any sense because I haven’t heard the joke. It’s as if they’ve already been talking about this topic long before I ever showed up.”
Yeah, that’s exactly what’s happening. But again, if anyone feels lost or left out for too long, it’s time for reexamination. We, without our brethrem and sisters, cannot be saved.
For me, the challenge is to abandon the cynicism I that sometimes overwhelms me as I say to myself, “People don’t change. You can’t fundamentally change what it means to be a Latter-day Saint because the old habits are too ingrained. Our former way of thinking will take an entire generation to evolve.”
That attitude is wrong. The realities of the conflict in which we find ourselves insist that we adapt quickly. Too much is at stake. Our families. Our children. Our loved ones. Our friends and neighbors. The causalities have been mounting. This new approach was inevitable. And essential. It’s a matter of spiritual survival.
My sincere prayer—this is sounding more like a Sacrament Meeting talk than a podcast. So be it. My sincere prayer is that all of us will embrace the opportunity to engage. Reread the messages of our leaders. Take your questions and your concerns to your Father in Heaven. Go to your knees. Seek His guidance and make the adjustments that need to be made. I don’t escape my own advice here. I’m no less accountable as everybody else. In fact I’m curious, a year from now, two years from now, what it might be like to re-listen to this podcast, look back with the benefit of hindsight, and take it all in. The adjustments. The status of things. If, as the title of this talk suggests, there is a kind of sifting taking place, I’ll be most interested to examine how well I heeded the call to action. How well I adapted to this higher law.
Thank you for joining me today on ForeverLDS. If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as you did yesterday—you know I think this whole podcast was intended to provide illumination that might help each of us finally recognize that it’s never the Lord who moves. It’s us. And if we’re following our leaders, following the voice of Spirit within us, that distance will perpetually decrease, as we grow closer to the Lord than we ever imagined possible.
I’m glad you’re here. I’m honored by your presence. I hope listening has made a difference. This is Chris Heimerdinger, and this is ForeverLDS.