Category Archives: Talks I’ve Given

Powerball vs. Eternal Life

Adapted from a talk given in the Philipsburg Branch of the Altoona Pennsylvania Stake on January 17, 2016.

Like me recently, you were probably overwhelmed by the media and public frenzy over a $1.3 billion Powerball lottery. For days it seemed that this was all everyone was talking about.

At my work, they collected for a Powerball pool, and they were all excited about the possibility of winning. I received a little badgering over not joining the pool. And frankly, there was a slight twinge of temptation there. Maybe even more than a twinge. I admit I did check out the Gospel topics page at LDS.org just to double check the church’s stance on gambling, and learned that the church is against state run lottos. Then I checked out the Powerball website…to learn that it is run by 30 states, so I guess you could say that the Church is reaallly against it.

I’m a convert and even before I joined the Church I didn’t really have much to do with lotteries. But the few times I did play… it seems I had all the luck. I once spent a weekend at an event where break open tickets were being sold as a fundraiser: I won both big prizes and a number of smaller ones. I have played the slots exactly once in my life: I won ten times what I put in. Once when I was in university I really needed new tires but I was literally down to just a couple of bucks. I used my last two dollars to buy a lotto ticket: I won $406 – just enough for the tires and the gas to get to the garage and back.

Elder Randall K. Bennett in his conference talk entitled “Choose Eternal Life” said, “We all have temptations…. It is never too hard or too late to make correct choices.” So though the temptation was there, I declined to join the Powerball pool. When a few of my colleagues were ribbing me about not joining them and one of them said, “What will you do when we all win and quit?”, I responded, “I guess I’ll have my pick of your jobs!”

Spending a couple of dollars on a lotto ticket may not seem like a big deal, but it has been said that it is the small daily decisions that we make that determine who we are. In that sense, every decision is an eternal decision. Elder Bennett said:

Our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, has taught: “I can’t stress too strongly that decisions determine destiny. You can’t make eternal decisions without eternal consequences.” Each of you…is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents. You do have a divine nature and destiny. During your premortal life you learned to love truth. You made correct eternal choices. You knew that here in mortality, there would be afflictions and adversity, sorrow and suffering, tests and trials to help you grow and progress. You also knew that you could continue making correct choices, repent of incorrect choices, and through the Atonement of Jesus Christ inherit eternal life.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen once said, “We can have eternal life if we want it, but only if there is nothing we want more.”

Aren’t there things that we all want? Money, fame and fortune is what the world tells us is necessary for success, and some non-church LDS companies buy into this formula when they publish such articles as “Top 10 Highest Paid LDS Youtube Stars” or “Richest LDS Entertainers”. The popularity of such so-called news perhaps sheds some light on who we may be becoming as a people. Are we choosing to be indoctrinated into the ways of the world? One way we can measure where we ourselves are headed is to examine how much real news, how many edifying stories and historical moments we are watching versus how much entertainment news, celebrity gossip and reality voyeurism we engage in.

In his book Pathways to Perfection, President Monson tells us the real formula for success. He says:

In this significant preparatory period of life we seek a map to sail uncharted seas, a formula to insure success, a guide to guarantee achievement. Where will we look? How will we seek? To whom will we turn for help? Our decision is vital. Our day of decision is now….

I say: “Turn your hearts and direct your thoughts to him who declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the light.” His word is as an unfailing compass to chart safely a true course through the storms of life. He taught faith, love, charity, and hope. He spoke of devotion, courage, example, and fidelity. His life reflected his teachings.

To you his inviting voice repeats the call, “Come, follow me.” By doing so, [you] will not fall victim to the evil one’s cunning and to temptation’s snare” (p. 251).

Success is turning your hearts and directing your thoughts to Jesus Christ in all that you do, not in winning the lottery. President Monson gives us four steps to follow for success:

  1. Labor to learn.
  2. Strive to serve.
  3. Think to thank.
  4. Pause to pray.

Notice the words that he uses here – labor, strive, think, pause; not just the simple verbs we usually use – learn, serve, thank, pray. The Gospel is an action we take on in our lives, not just a noun. It is something to work at, to put effort into, not just do as a routine part of lives.

First, of laboring to learn, President Monson says:

A half-hearted effort will not suffice. You must labor with all your might…. At stake is eternal life – yours…. Will you be a leader of men and a servant of God? Or will you be a servant of sin and a follower of Satan? Decisions determine destiny. In the quiet of your study, surrounded by books written by the finest minds of men, listen for and hearken to the Master’s invitation: “…learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:29-30)….  Alma, the prophet, could well have been speaking to you when he counseled, “Oh, remember, my son, and learn wisdom…; yea, learn…to keep the commandments of God” (Alma 37:35) (p. 253).

Second, of striving to serve, he quotes Thomas Huxley: “The end of life is not knowledge, but action” and then continues, “When our testimonies are reflected by our service, they shine with unequaled brilliance” (p. 253).

We spent five months overseas last year in Sri Lanka, a country where most people are very poor compared to us. A nice quad costs the same for them as it does for us – about $50 US. To give you an idea of how much this really costs for someone from that country….I spent more on groceries each week than most people make in a month. A friend of ours, for example, makes purses for 10 rupees each – less than 1/10th of a cent. I noticed another friend of ours did not have proper scriptures. She had been saving but every time she was getting close, something came up. For example, at 18 years old she basically became the breadwinner for her family because her father became ill and could not work.

In the meantime, after I was baptized I longed for a set of nice scriptures, and as a sign of renewal after my divorce, I saved and bought myself a beautiful quad. Over the next couple of years I saved and bought myself a complete set of scripture illustration stickers, and spent much time making my scriptures a beautiful book. I sacrificed many things and much time and about $450 to make my scriptures exactly as I wanted them.

But, on one of my last nights in Sri Lanka I approached my friend and gave her my scriptures. She cried in gratitude. What for me was the equivalent of a week or two of work, for her would have been four months salary. And she now has proper scriptures to use on a mission if she so chooses. My sacrifice and service to one person may help her to sacrifice and serve countless others.

Third, of thinking to thank, it really is necessary to ponder what we are thankful for instead of giving automatic ‘thank you’s for everything. We must actually think about the things we are thankful for.

For example, President Monson says:

Do you think to thank your mother and your father who have given you life and who rejoice in your accomplishments? To them no sacrifice is too great, no loneliness too acute if such opens the way for you to enjoy the blessings of life…. A fitting tribute of gratitude was made by a young Latter-day Saint girl attending…high school. The students in her class had been asked to prepare a letter to be written to a great man of their choice…. This young lady…addressed her letter to her father, and in her letter she stated: “I have decided to write this letter to you, Dad, because you are the greatest man that I have ever known. The overwhelming desire of my heart is that I might so live that I will have the privilege of being beside you and mother and other members of the family in the celestial kingdom.” That father has never received a more cherished letter (p. 255).

Finally, of pausing to pray. How do we do this? Seek Heavenly Father’s counsel, advice, guidance for the things we endure every day. Give Him thanks for all we have, even the trials that He sends our way. An old Native American prayer says, “We pray for strength, and you send us trials to make us stronger.”

President Monson says:

Perhaps there has never been a time when we had greater need to pray to that God who has given us life. One cannot help but compare our situation today with conditions at the time of Belshazzar, the king of the Chaldeans.

The prophet Daniel rebuked Belshazzar: “And thou…O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart….But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou, and thy lords, thy wives, and they concubines, have drunk wine in them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver, and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose ways are all they ways, hast thou not glorified.” (Daniel 5:22-23)

He then interpreted the writing on the wall: “God hath numbered they kingdom, and finished it…. Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)

When we are weighed in the balances we will not be found wanting if we make personal prayer a pattern for our lives. When we remember that each of us is is literally a spirit son or daughter of God, we will not find it difficult to approach our Father in heaven (p.p.255-256).

As Elder Hafen reminded us, ultimately this pattern for success will lead us to eternal life, but only if we want it, and only if there is nothing we want more.

Like some other churches, for the past few years our church has come under increasing condemnation for its stance on marriage. It has been criticized from outside and in, by the world and by members who know the doctrine and yet want to change the will of the Lord.

Our beliefs about marriage, about families is clearly defined in the Proclamation on the Family. Some would have you believe that the current controversy is simply a matter of equality for all. It’s not. As a church, we believe firmly that people have the right to choose in almost every aspect of their lives, but we also know the adversary will always find new ways to try to bring about his desires and to pull people away from God.

Here’s an example. We know that the Second Coming will not occur until all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children have had the opportunity to come to this earth and partake of a mortal existence. What better way to stop this from happening than to destroy the spiritual purpose of the family? For more than thirty years this has been the case in China with its one-child policy, a policy widely criticized throughout the world, including in the United States. Sister Sheri Dew, past member of the Young Women General Presidency, in her book Women and the Priesthood, quotes Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster:

“For more than three decades, Chinese women have been subjected to their country’s brutal one-child policy. Those who try to have more children have been subjected to fines and forced abortions. Their houses have been razed and their husbands fired from their jobs. As a result, Chinese women have a fertility rate of 1.54.”

Now here’s the interesting part:

“Here in America, white, college-educated women – a good proxy for the middle class – have a fertility rate of 1.6. America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves. Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff.”

Sister Dew continues: “It doesn’t take a mathematician to calculate the impact on society of a population that won’t replace itself. Even more serious is the attempted threat to our Heavenly Father’s plan for His children. Mortal life is a prerequisite for eternal life” (p. 140).

Does this mean that we are to have one child after another, year after year? Of course not, though it may. The Family Proclamation and other church materials clearly state that the number of children a couple has should be prayerfully considered by each couple. Such decisions are decisions of eternity. Interestingly, the amount of money one has – or whether or not one has won the lottery – is not a suggested requirement.

The admonition to Adam and Eve – and through them, to us – was to “multiply and replenish the earth.” That commandment has not changed. We can choose to follow that commandment literally, but we can also choose to acknowledge that there are other ways of replenishing than by having children.

Here are some things to think about:

  • To replenish means to fill something that had previously been emptied. We can think of Noah and his family in this sense – they were tasked with beginning the human race anew after the earth had been wiped clean and emptied of life by the Great Flood.
  • To replenish means to make full or complete. If we consider this meaning in a spiritual sense, it means to constantly nourish ourselves with prayer, scripture study, attending meetings, service, and all other things we do to rejuvenate our minds and souls as we serve the Lord and learn of Him.
  • To replenish means to inspire or nourish. The more spiritually filled we are, the more we can inspire and nourish others, through encouragement, friendship, service, missionary work, and countless other ways.

Are we choosing to be engaged in replenishing the earth and its inhabitants, or are we doing the opposite and giving fuel to Satan’s powers?

  • Are we consuming more than our share of the earth’s resources?
  • Are we taking more spiritually from others than we are giving back?
  • Are we draining our families and friends of emotional or financial resources unnecessarily?
  • Are we exhausting our lives in pursuit of worldly things?
  • Are we using up the good will and patience of those around us by demanding that they give to us constantly but doing nothing for them in return?

All of these are eternal choices with eternal consequences.

Elder Bennett tells us:

In reality we have only two eternal choices, each with eternal consequences: choose to follow the Savior of the world and thus choose eternal life with our Heavenly Father or choose to follow the world and thus choose to separate ourselves from Heavenly Father eternally….

In evaluating your choices and their consequences, you might ask yourself:

  • Am I seeking divine direction through daily scripture study, pondering, and prayer, or have I chosen to be so busy or apathetic that I don’t take time to study the words of Christ, ponder them, and converse with my Heavenly Father?
  • Am I choosing to follow the counsel of living prophets of God, or am I following the worldly ways and the opposing opinions of others?
  • Am I seeking the guidance of the Holy Ghost daily in what I choose to think about, feel, and do?
  • Am I consistently reaching out to assist, serve, or help rescue others?

….[Your] eternal destiny will not be the result of chance but of choice. It is never too late to begin to choose eternal life!

And even though it may be tempting at times, choosing eternal life does not include playing Powerball.