5 years ago Lego Batman the Movie came out. We had rented the movie and a 9-yr-old Wyatt was watching it in our van. In the movie there is a scene where Joker says to Batman:
Joker: Are you seriously saying there is nothing, nothing special about our relationship?
Batman answers: Whoa. Let me tell you something, J-bird. Batman doesn’t do ‘ships.
Joker interjects: What?
Batman replies: As in “relationships.” There is no “us.” Batman and Joker are not a thing. I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. You mean nothing to me. No one does.”
As Batman says this, Joker’s eyes get all puppy dog big and watery and Wyatt says to me, “His super cute eyes are making me sad.”
The Harvard Study of Adult Development began in 1938. It continues 84 years later after four study directors, and over 724 participants. The clearest message obtained from this study is , “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” The previous study director summarized it thus, “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
I believe there are 4 Critical Relationships:
- Our relationship with God/Christ
- Our relationship with ourself
- Our relationship with our family/loved ones
- Our relationship with friends, neighbors, and man/womankind
Sin damages at least one or more of these 4 Critical Relationships. Whenever we sin, we damage our relationship with God and we distance ourselves from our Heavenly Parents. By extension whenever we do good or whenever we repent, this positive turning is also manifest in one or more of the four critical relationships. We shorten the distance between ourselves and God. We heal the hurt we’ve caused ourselves, our self-talk improves and our sense of self worth and confidence grows. As we become more Christlike, we are more aligned to living after “the manner of happiness” (Alma 41:11). If we take the 10 commandments as an example, Jesus summarized these as Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself– Have Loving relationships in all of the four critical relationships. And when we look at the original 10 commandments the first four (No other Gods before me, Make no Idols, Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, and Keep the Sabbath day holy) are all about loving God and our relationship with Him, and the second 6 (Honoring your parents, Don’t Kill, Don’t Commit Adultery, Don’t Steal, Don’t Lie, and Don’t Covet) are about loving others and our behavior in relationship to others.
One senior missionary couple said, “I submit that in Heaven, wealth is measured in terms of human relationships. …. Human relationships are the treasures that thieves cannot steal and that moths cannot corrupt.”–Elder and Sister Lombardi
Relationships are SUPER important to our happiness. When our relationships are consistent with Christ’s teachings, we thrive and are happy, and when they are not, we suffer.
This question has been on my mind, “What is the Purpose of the Church?” The prevailing question in Joseph Smith’s time may have been, “Which church is true?” While today, the prevailing question seems to be more, “Why church?” As a whole, more people in America have been moving away from organized religion than ever before. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx) So I asked myself, “Why church? Why did Christ organize a church? What is its purpose?” Certainly among the purposes was to ensure clarity and order, to reduce confusion, to ensure that His teachings would be correctly disseminated throughout the world. I think, though, that the greatest purpose was that the Church would be a vehicle to help foster relationships between the members of the Church and our Heavenly Father, our Heavenly Mother, and Jesus Christ. As Christ himself taught in John 17:3, “This is Life Eternal that they might know thee the Only True God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”
George W. Pace, a BYU religion professor gave a devotional in 1975 and said it this way, “As I have attempted to understand what the role of the Church is, my feeling is that the fundamental message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to declare that Jesus Christ lives, that he is indeed the Son of God, that he has appeared in our day, that men and women today can know him, that they can know him better than they know anyone else on the face of the earth, that he can have a greater impact on their lives than the combined influence of anybody else.”
Now Brothers and Sisters — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not have a monopoly on relationships with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
However, what the church does have a monopoly on is the priesthood authority to perform saving ordinances and covenants. Covenants, like prayer, gives us access to blessings that the Lord is willing to grant us but are dependent or conditional upon us making and keeping that covenant.
Elder Renlund recently spoke in general conference of the priesthood and covenants and ordinances of the gospel as the rocket that delivers the payload = the payload being the atonement of Jesus Christ. The covenants, ordinances, and principles of faith and repentance are the conditions that allow us to claim access to the atonement of Jesus Christ and avoid suffering the demands of justice for our own sins. Elder Bednar recently taught that our covenants create a personal and powerful connection between ourselves and the Lord. (But We Heeded Them Not).
George W. Pace said in that same devotional: “Every ordinance in the gospel is a channel of power to us if, as we function in those ordinances, we develop in an ever-increasing way a personal relationship with the Lord. But those ordinances won’t change our lives unless we know who he is. They can’t touch us in the manner they ought to do unless somewhere along the line he really comes alive. The power of redemption isn’t in the ordinances per se; the power of redemption isn’t in the Church per se. The ordinances and the Church are a means to an end, channeling the power that can flow from the Master. The degree to which you and I know him and relate with him and give our lives to him is the degree to which that power will flow through the ordinances and principles.”
Pres. Johnson once shared an interpretation of the story of the 10 Virgins that has stuck with me. There are 5 virgins that have extra oil — their lights are lit. The other 5 don’t have enough, so they leave from watching for the bridegroom to go try to purchase oil. And because they do that, they miss his coming. I’m not saying that the general interpretation of this parable is wrong — there is value in that interpretation. However, I also believe there is value in the interpretation that maybe it wasn’t about the oil — did everyone in the procession waiting for the bridegroom have to have an oil lamp? Couldn’t an interpretation be that perhaps they were so concerned about the lamp and the oil that they missed the point? That it was really always just about waiting for the bridegroom– that perhaps the interpretation could be made that the foolish virgins simply had their priorities wrong? Do we occasionally get caught up in the To Do List of gospel living and get so focused on the oil and activities we need for our lamps that we overlook the point—the bridegroom — strengthening and developing a relationship with Our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ?
Looking back on my youth church experience in some ways and at some times it was just that, it was more an experience with the Church than it was an experience with Christ. This may be normal and isn’t a fault of my parents or my youth leaders. I think I was getting caught up in the machinery of the church. Brother Pace taught, “Some of the time we get caught up in the theology of the Church, in the programs. Some of the time, because we get caught up in those things, we fail to realize that, unless somewhere along the line the image of the Savior becomes emblazoned on everything we see and everything we do, then the great purpose for that divine organization and its divine principles will be nullified.” Brother Pace then gives this great analogy, he says, “Let me liken membership in the Church to the possession of a beautiful, powerful car (Elder Renlund compared it to a Rocket). In fact, it’s the finest car money can buy. We love to get in it and drive around; there is a great deal of satisfaction in just owning it. We obtain so much satisfaction in possessing the car that we fail to realize the car was given to us as a means to an end, not an end in itself. It was given to us to make the most important journey in our lives. So it is with the Church. It’s a beautiful, successful organization capable of bringing many blessings into our lives, but the main reason we were given the Church is so that we might make the journey from where we are to where the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is, that we might learn who he is and exercise a mighty faith in him! What a challenge to make sure we realize that the Church must be a divine launching pad to Christ, that the Church is a means to an end, that it may be possible to be converted to the Church without being converted to the Lord, but it’s never possible to be converted to the Lord without being converted to the Church.”
The goal of the Church of Jesus Christ is to bring people unto Christ—to help them develop a personal relationship with Him. From the viewpoint of that goal: it becomes easy to understand the why behind the commandments. If we were to seek to develop a relationship with someone we would 1) spend time with them, 2) visit their home 3) talk to them: ask questions and share our likes/concerns.
We read the scriptures because they are Christ’s words and by reading them we get to know His voice, we spend time with Him there, we come to understand His mindset, His perspective and the thoughts and intents of His heart.
We pray because that is how we talk to God- even two way conversations.
We come to church to reconnect with God and Christ through the ordinance of the sacrament and we learn more about Him and His likes and concerns.
And we visit the temple because it is the Lord’s house. The prophet Habbakuk testified- But the Lord is in his holy temple!” President Eyring has said that everything done in a temple is designed to lead “our hearts to love our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Many times it is our trials that really bring us closer to God. In reaching out to Him during our trials, when He succors us, our love for Him grows. When our hands hang down and our knees are feeble, and when we see a friend come to lift us up, we learn what Christ and His love is like. And when we serve others we feel Christ’s love for them and for us and we are all edified and rejoice together– for when we are in the service of our fellow beings we are in the service of God– and when we serve people we grow to love them.
I think this quote gets to the heart of how desperately we NEED a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Kurt Francom, host of the Leading Saints podcast said, “We have to figure out why we’re broken today and share that and reach healing because if we think we don’t need healing….I can’t imagine being in the line as we [read] in 3rd Nephi, being in that line when Christ is beginning to heal people and you get up to the front of the line and Christ is like, ‘How can I heal you? And I say, ‘oh no, I’m good. You focus on the handicap people. I just want to meet you, man. Thank you. You’re awesome.’ …If you can’t articulate to the savior, how you’re broken, what’s the point?”
Moroni said, in Ether 12:41 And now, I would commend you to aseek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father, and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, …, may be and abide in you forever.”
My friends of the Euclid Ward, as the presiding high priest and bishop of this ward, I promise that if you will be intentional in seeking Jesus and striving for a personal connection with Him in the behaviors and activities of gospel living—in keeping and making covenants including temple covenants, in looking for Jesus in sacrament meeting, seeking Jesus with intent in your prayers, in looking for His tender mercies in the busyness of your life, in your study of the scriptures and the words of the living prophets, in finding the traits of Jesus in that which is virtuous, lovely, and of good report even if it isn’t published or produced by this Church— I promise that as you seek this Jesus your personal relationship with Him and with your Heavenly Parents will grow, you will feel more peace even as conflict in the world increases, your ability to recognize God’s blessings and Hand in your life will increase, you will feel less alone, you will feel more hopeful, your ability to Hear Him and receive personal revelation will increase, and you will feel capable and confident to perform the labors that you are called upon to perform in your responsibilities as parents, sons and daughters, siblings, friends, workers, and in the callings that will come to you as you serve in this wonderful, true, and living Church of Christ’s. With a strong relationship with Jesus you will not fall away from His Church, because you will understand: Why Church.
Like Batman learned. We need ‘ships, we need relationships with each other. Christ and Us and the Church are a “thing”. We mean everything to Him and to our Heavenly Parents. D. Todd Cristofferson taught, “In the end, it is the blessing of a close and abiding relationship with the Father and the Son that we seek. It makes all the difference and is everlastingly worth the cost.”
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.