20 June 2017

Father's Day Talk

My earliest memory of my own father is of him giving me a blessing when I was between two and three years old and very ill. It was the first of many that I received at his hand through the years. As soon as the blessing was completed I fell asleep and began to heal.

I think that experience planted the seed in my mind and heart that I wanted to marry a righteous man who would be able to bless me and my own children.

Many years passed before I met Steve. Although not a member of this or any other church, he impressed me on our first date with his strong desire to marry and have a large family. His greatest hope was to become a Dad.

As we dated, I was further impressed with his work ethic, his gentlemanly manners, as well as his kindness and patience. He seemed to me to have all the right qualities to make a good husband and father.

After we’d been married a few months he asked me, “If the church means so much to you, why did you marry me, a non-member?” It took me a few days to answer as I had to ponder and attempt to put into words some deep spiritual feelings. Finally, I said, “I can teach you the gospel anytime you want to learn. But I can’t teach you to be a good man, hardworking, kind and patient, with a good sense of humor. You just had to come that way.”

From The Family: A Proclamation to the World, we learn that “By divine design fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”
I’ve long felt that it is not just physical dangers that a husband and father are to protect us from, but maybe more importantly they are to protect us from spiritual dangers as well.

When Steve was ready, he listened to the missionaries and chose to make sacred covenants in the waters of baptism, and then in the temple, where we were sealed as a family with the first three of our five children.

The gospel of Jesus Christ and the Priesthood of God has added to and enhanced all Steve’s goodness over the past 23 years.

No matter what your own father was or is like, I believe we can learn much that will benefit us from the examples of righteous fathers in the scriptures.

Father Adam is a good place to start. After he and Mother Eve were cast out of the Garden we’re told “that Adam began to till the earth, and to have dominion over all the beasts of the field, and to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow, as I the Lord had commanded him. And Eve, also, his wife, did labor with him. And Adam knew his wife, and she bare unto him sons and daughters, and they began to multiply and to replenish the earth. And from that time forth, the sons and daughters of Adam began to divide two and two in the land, and to till the land, and to tend flocks, and they also begat sons and daughters.” (Moses 5:1-3)

No doubt Adam and Eve had their children work alongside of them to teach them all they would need to know to be successful farmers and herdsmen, mothers and fathers.

They continued faithfully doing all that the Lord had commanded them and were one day visited by an angel and taught more about the Father’s Great Plan of Happiness. Afterward “. . . Adam blessed the name of God and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters.” (Moses 5:12)
“And a book of remembrance was kept in the which was recorded, in the language of Adam, for it was given unto as many as called upon God to write by the Spirit of inspiration. And by them (meaning the books of remembrance) their children were taught to read and write, having a language which was pure and undefiled. . . and a genealogy was kept of the children of God.” (Moses 6:5-6, 8)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “If by his example as well as his words a father can demonstrate what fidelity to God looks like in day-to-day living, that father will have given his children the key to peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come. A father who reads scripture to and with his children acquaints them with the voice of the Lord.” (Ensign, May 2016, page 94)

Our responsibilities are reiterated in the Family Proclamation.

Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.

Adam is truly our first and best mortal example of Fatherhood in action.

My next example is Abram, later named Abraham. Although Abraham was raised by an unrighteous father who had strayed far from the gospel path, he sought for the blessings of the gospel and priesthood even moving far away to a strange land to get away from the unrighteousness of his father and seeking out those who could give him the blessings he sought.

Years later as an old man Abraham, with his wife Sarah, was blessed with a son. While Isaac was still a young man Abraham was tested by God and asked to give his son as a sacrifice. The scriptures do not record any complaint or questioning by Abraham, even though sacrificing his only son would leave him without the posterity promised by God. He rose up early in the morning and prepared all that would be needed for the burnt offering and took his son Isaac to the mountainous place as commanded. As they prepared to leave Isaac questioned what they were doing as there wasn’t a lamb for the offering. Abraham calmly replied that God would provide a lamb. When they arrived at the designated place and all was ready, including Isaac bound and laying on the pile of wood, an angel of the Lord called Abraham from heaven, and Abraham immediately answered, “Here am I.” The angel said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou anything unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” (Gen. 22:1-1)

It was at that time that the Lord reminded Abraham of his blessings that included posterity as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the sands upon the seashore; and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through that very posterity.

When we are obedient to God’s commandments He stands ready to bless us in ways we can’t yet imagine. We don’t even have to go through enormous tests like Abrahams. When we do what the current prophet asks of us, such as read and study the Book of Mormon daily, we qualify for the blessings of God poured out on us and our families.

The fact that obedience brings blessings is an eternal truth: “There is a law, [we are told,] irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated. And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20-21)

Abraham’s righteous desire for posterity was granted after he was completely obedient to God’s commandments, even being willing to give up the one son he did have without knowing how the desired blessing would come about. We can learn to trust God, obeying his commandments even when we don’t understand them by learning from Abraham’s example.

Lehi, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah and Daniel, is another example of obedience. He was called to preach repentance to the people in Jerusalem, which he did faithfully, until their murderous designs made it unsafe to stay there. The Lord commanded Lehi to take his family and flee into the wilderness. For eight long years they traveled and rested; while Lehi’s children married and began families of their own. His two oldest sons regularly complained, questioned and made life miserable for the rest of the family. They had been taught the same things Nephi had been taught, but for whatever reason, their spirits were contrary, and Lehi often had to call them to repent and turn from their wickedness.

After describing the wonders of his vision of the tree of life to his family, Nephi said of his father Lehi, “. . . because of things which he saw in a vision, he exceedingly feared for Laman and Lemuel; yea, he feared lest they should be cast off from the presence of the Lord. And he [Lehi} did exhort them then with all the feelings of a tender parent, that they would hearken to his words, . . . yea, my father did preach unto them. And after he had preached unto them, . . . he bade them to keep the commandments of the Lord;” (1 Nephi 8:36-38)

What a good example for fathers! He didn’t yell at, hit, or belittle his sons. He spoke to them with tender feelings, calling them to repent; he preached to or taught them; and he bade them, or invited them, to keep the commandments.

Again from Elder Christofferson, “When a father provides correction, his motivation must be love and his guide the Holy Spirit. . . .Discipline in the divine pattern is not so much about punishment as it is about helping a loved one along the path of self-mastery.” (Ensign, May 2016, page 95)

Alma, former priest of King Noah, is another example of a good father. One of his sons was so wicked that he was persecuting members of the church and causing all kinds of trouble. When this wicked son was at his worst he was struck down by a visit from an angel sent from God. The angel said to Alma, the younger, “Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14, emphasis added)

“Now the astonishment of Alma was so great that he became dumb, that he could not open his mouth; and he became weak, even that he could not move his hands; therefore he was taken by those that were with him, and carried helpless, even until he was laid before his father.” (Mosiah 27:19)

Alma the elder, listened to the report of what had happened and then called his priests together and they began to fast and pray for his son “that the eyes of the people might be opened to see and know of the goodness and glory of God.” (Mosiah 27:22) They fasted and prayed for two days and nights! Alma the younger recovered, repented, and went on to become a great missionary, leader and prophet.

The prayers of fathers regarding their children are heard and answered according to their faith and according to the will of God. The prayers and fasting of faithful fathers can have a great effect in the lives of their children.
Alma the younger, himself is another great example of fatherhood and the value of individual counseling with children. Chapters 36 thought 42 of Alma, in the Book of Mormon, are the records of the counsel Alma gave to his sons Helaman, Shiblon, and Corianton. I encourage you to read those chapters. One thing that stands out to me is in the part to Corianton. Alma uses the words “I perceive” many times. Blessed with and recognizing the gift of discernment, Alma knew what was troubling Corianton, what questions he had and how to answer them.

Worthy fathers can have the same inspiration in their stewardship over their children. We can’t see into the heart and mind of another without the help of the Lord. As we live righteously, obeying the commandments and keeping our covenants we will be worthy instruments in the Lord’s hands to teach and train up our children.

My last example of a righteous father is one about whom we know very little. However, he had one of the most important fatherhood positions of all time. Joseph, of Nazareth, was called to be the earthly father/guardian of Heavenly Father’s only begotten son in the flesh, Jesus the Christ.

Matthew tells us that Joseph was a just man; when told his betrothed Mary, was expecting a child that was not his, “he was not willing to make her a publick example, [but] was minded to put her away privily.” (Matthew 1:19)

Joseph didn’t act hastily either, he pondered the situation, and as he did so, an angel appeared to him and explained the circumstances and told him not to fear taking Mary to wife.

It is obvious to me that Joseph was a righteous and spiritual man because he was visited by angels, given instruction and then he followed the instructions.

As far as we can read about him in the scriptures he seems to be kind, patient, tender hearted, a totally good man. He raised a child that wasn’t his, teaching him what he knew and providing for him as long as he lived.

One doesn’t have to be the physical father of a child to be a righteous influence, a good provider, or a good teacher. We are all brothers and sisters, children of a Heavenly Father, organized into mortal families patterned after our heavenly family. We who arrive on earth earlier take care of those who arrive later and together we help each other make it through this mortal boarding school so we can graduate and return to our heavenly home.

Single sisters, young and older, I encourage you to look for a man with righteous qualities and then get married before having children. Give your children the priceless gift of a righteous father.

Brothers and sisters, character is more important than looks or wealth or any other worldly measure when it comes to fatherhood. We can learn from the examples of righteous fathers throughout the scriptures. Our best example is our Heavenly Father who daily watches over us and provides for us, “h[e] who has created [us] from the beginning, and is preserving [us] from day to day by lending [us] breath. . . .And . . . all that he requires of [us] is to keep his commandments; and he has promised [us] that if [we] would keep his commandments [we] should prosper in the land; and he never . . . var[ies] from that which he ha[s] said; therefore, if [we] . . . keep his commandments he do[es] bless [us] and prosper [us].” (Mosiah 2:21-22)

Like Father Adam, Abraham, and Lehi, we can be obedient to the commandments, and teach them to our children; like Alma the Elder, we can pray in faith for our wayward children; like Alma the Younger, who was saved by the prayers of his faithful father, we can have the gift of discernment in teaching our children. And like Joseph of Nazareth we can love, teach and train children who are not our own biological children.

In closing I’ll share more from Elder Christofferson’s magnificent talk about fatherhood.
Let us lay aside the exaggerated notions of individualism and autonomy in today’s culture and think first of the happiness and well-being of others. . . . Live your life so that as a man you will bring purity to your marriage and to your children.
(Ensign, May 2016, page 96)

I testify that Our Father in Heaven truly loves us, wants the best for us and is willing to forgive us when we repent and return to him. He can help us to become more like Him and Our Savior if we will let Him.